- By Heather Maher
Obama Aligns U.S. With Arab Protesters, Endorses 1967 Borders For Israel
He also announced a significant shift in the U.S. position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Speaking at the State Department, which he called "a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy," Obama for the first time since popular uprisings began sweeping Arab countries late last year addressed the collective yearning for democratic reforms across the region -- what he called "a longing for freedom."
"For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa," he said. "Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights."
Declaring "there must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity," Obama sought to erase ambiguity about U.S. loyalties by firmly aligning the United States with the citizens calling for change, not their leaders, many of who are longtime U.S. allies.
"The United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves," he said. "Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just."
'The Path Of Murder'
He said America has an "historic opportunity" to show that it "values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator."
In that spirit, the U.S. leader delivered his strongest message yet to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who he said has "chosen the path of murder and mass arrests" in response to two months of peaceful demonstrations for reforms. Assad must lead his country in a peaceful democratic transition "or get out of the way," Obama said.
Some 850 people have died in the Syrian regime's crackdown and thousands have been arrested. Washington's response has been criticized as muted in deference to a strategic calculation that Damascus might loosen its ties with Tehran. Obama's words today, and the new sanctions he authorized on May 18 on Assad and six senior Syrian officials, signaled a sharp break with that diplomatic approach.
U.S. foreign policy in the region has been seriously tested throughout six months of upheaval, and the Obama administration has been criticized for its inconsistent response to each country experiencing a popular democratic uprising.
In Egypt, support for longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak only waned after weeks of street demonstrations, and though Obama finally did call on Mubarak to leave, he has not done the same in Bahrain, where the royal family has beaten and killed citizens demanding more freedoms.
U.S. forces are helping NATO drive Libya's Muammar Qaddafi from power but until today Washington had stayed largely quiet about Assad's similarly brutal treatment of his own people in Syria.
'Follow Through' Needed By Yemen
Obama said Bahrain -- which he called "a long-standing partner" -- must begin a dialogue with members of its opposition, many of whom first need to be released from jail. He urged Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to "follow through on his commitment to transfer power," in an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Obama said the United States would support the calls for democratic change, even though it might run counter to its strategic interests in the region.
"There will be times when our short-term interests do not align perfectly with our long-term vision of the region. But we can -- and will -- speak out for a set of core principles -- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months," Obama said.
That support, he said, will take the shape of more assistance to civil society, outreach via social media as a way to listen to the voices of the people -- especially young people -- and important economic aid aimed at encouraging job growth and investment in the future.
"Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States," he said.
The White House has announced that it will cancel some $1 billion of Egypt's debt to free up money that can be used to invest in jobs and entrepreurship, and will guarantee up to $1 billion in loans for Egypt through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a U.S. government institution that mobilizes private capital.
Return To Israel's 1967 Borders
Obama also seized the historic moment to announce a significant shift in the U.S. position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, he publicly called for Israel to agree to a Palestinian state based on borders that existed in 1967, before the Six-Day War led to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," Obama said, "so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."
By endorsing one of the Palestinian's key demands, Obama walked a delicate diplomatic line between U.S. support for Israel and its desire to break a decades-old impasse that has tainted U.S. relations with the Arab world.
"At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever," he said.
He said the U.S. commitment to Israel's security "is unshakeable," but the deep friendship between the two countries compels a blunt statement of fact -- namely, that "the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace."
"What America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples -- Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace," Obama said.
But Obama also rejected a plan by Palestinians to push for United Nations recognition of statehood this fall, saying, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."
Haim Malka, the deputy director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Obama successfully communicated the idea that although America did not inspire the popular uprisings across the region, it does have a stake in their success.
"People in the Arab world felt that this was an Arab moment -- that it was people in the region that really led these uprisings, led the revolts, led to the changes in government in Tunisia and Egypt. They don't want anyone to take that away from them," he said. "I think the president struck a balance: He tried to tell Americans how the change in the region is connected to the United States, he acknowledged that this is an Arab moment, but he also acknowledged that the United States does have a role to play."
Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, said Obama failed to fully explain the inconsistencies in U.S. policies toward various countries in the region, but did effectively communicate U.S. support for a universal set of values that includes political freedoms and human rights.
But he predicted that among Arabs, the impact of Obama's words would be minimal.
"I think that it would be a mistake to think that everyone is sitting at the edge of their seat in the Arab world waiting for the pronouncements of Mr. Obama. As the events of the last four months or so have demonstrated, the fates and the history of the Arab world is being written by Arabs, and the United States has some impact on that, but it's certainly not the decisive factor," Shehata said.
Regional reaction to Obama’s 1967 border proposal was swift.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas voiced appreciation for Obama's efforts to resume peace talks, saying through a spokesman that he welcomed the efforts to reach a final status agreement.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the speech “disappointing,” and told Al Jazeera television that Obama offered nothing new. "What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation," Abu Zuhri said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Obama's vision of a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders could leave the Jewish state "indefensible.”
In a statement, Netanyahu said he expected Washington to allow Israel to keep major settlement blocs beyond the 1967 lines in the occupied West Bank in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
The Israeli leader meets with Obama at the White House on May 20, an event that could prove tense in light of the speech.
U.S. To Offer To Keep Nuclear Arms Curbs Until 2026 If Russia Does Same
The United States on June 2 will offer to abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until its 2026 expiration if Russia does the same, in order to bolster global security, two senior administration officials said. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan will make the offer in a speech to the Arms Control Association, the oldest U.S. arms control advocacy group, the officials said on June 1 on condition of anonymity. Sullivan will say President Joe Biden's administration is open to resuming unconditional talks with Moscow on managing nuclear dangers, including replacing New START with a new pact, the sources said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Former Lawmaker Gets 16 Years In Prison For Ordering Journalist's Assassination In Siberia
Isa Khashiyev, a former lawmaker in the Siberian city of Minusinsk, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for ordering the assassination of an editor of the Ton-M newspaper in 2016. The Krasnoyarsk regional prosecutor's office said on June 2 that another defendant in the case, Viktor Shestakov, was found guilty of shooting Dmitry Popkov on Khashiyev's order and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
U.S. Lawyer Named Chief Prosecutor At Office Linked To Kosovo War Crimes Court
American lawyer Kimberly West has been appointed as the chief prosecutor linked to a European Union-backed court prosecuting war crimes in Kosovo, the prosecutor's office announced on June 2. West replaces Jack Smith, who stood down as head of the Specialist Prosecutor's Office in November to become a U.S. Justice Department special counsel overseeing investigations into the retention of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, as well as aspects of an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden. To read the original story by AP, click here.
Russian Writer, Staunch Kremlin Critic Barred From Entering Georgia
Russian writer Viktor Shenderovich, an outspoken Kremlin critic, has not been allowed to enter Georgia. Shenderovich, who fled Russia last year after a probe was launched against him on a libel charge that he calls trumped up, wrote on Facebook on June 2 that he canceled his readings in Georgia after he was rejected without explanation from entering the Caucasus nation. Shenderovich accused Georgia's government of "doing the work" to turn the nation into "Putin's province."
Swiss Parliament Votes To Block Indirect Arms Exports To Ukraine
The Swiss parliament rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine on June 1. The majority of members of the Swiss National Council voted against the proposal that had been drafted by the security policy committee of the country's larger parliamentary chamber. The Swiss Federal Assembly is made up of the National Council and the smaller Council of States. The "Lex Ukraine" would have allowed other states to deliver Swiss-made war materiel to Ukraine. The laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war. Switzerland has therefore so far refused to give Germany permission to pass along Swiss ammunition, purchased years ago for the German Leopard tank, to Ukraine.
Prominent Pakistani Activist Goes Missing Amid Political Turmoil
A prominent Pakistani lawyer and activist known for criticizing the country’s powerful military went missing after he was abducted by armed men in Karachi. More than a dozen unidentified armed men abducted Jibran Nasir as he was returning from a dinner with his wife around midnight in the port city. His wife, Mansha Pasha, a prominent actress, asked people to speak out for his return and pray for his safety in a video message late on June 1. Nasir's abduction amid the ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan prompted activists and civil society to raise their concerns. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was deeply concerned by the reports that Nasir had been abducted.
Amnesty Blasts Iran's 'Shameless' Use Of Executions For Drug-Related Cases
Amnesty International says Iran's prisons have turned into "killing fields" with the number of people executed on drug-related charges almost triple this year compared with 2022, calling it a "shameless rate" that exposes the regime's "lack of humanity."
The London-based rights organization said in a report released on June 2 that Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences this year after "systematically unfair trials," nearly three times more than this time last year.
Amnesty said members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority accounted for around 20 percent of the recorded executions, "despite making up only 5 percent of Iran's population."
"The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The international community must ensure that cooperation in antidrug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran," Eltahawy added.
Amnesty said the number of executions for all crimes had also significantly increased in the Islamic republic, with at least 282 people executed in total so far in 2023.
"If the authorities continue to carry out overall executions at this alarming pace, they could kill nearly 1,000 prisoners by the end of this year," the rights group warned.
The report said the poor and vulnerable are mostly impacted by the death penalty while the families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.
The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group said on June 1 at least 307 people have been executed in 2023, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.
IHR said at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."
According to Amnesty International, Iran was the world's top executioner in 2022 after China.
Ukraine Says It Downed All Drones, Missiles Shot At Capital, Two Injured
Ukrainian authorities say air-defense forces shot down all 15 missiles and 21 drones over the capital, Kyiv, as Russia launched its sixth consecutive day of attacks on the capital.
Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office said a 68-year-old man and an 11-year-old child were wounded in the June 2 attacks, which came from several directions and hit residential areas.
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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who earlier reported two separate waves of attacks, said on Telegram there had been no calls for rescue services.
“Already after the alarm, smoldering fragments of a rocket were found on the road in the Darnytsya district of the capital. The rescue and fire service is on its way to the scene," Klitschko wrote.
Russian troops have intensified their attacks against Ukrainian cities, particularly Kyiv, since the start of May.
The Ukrainian capital has been targeted by 19 waves of Russian air strikes since the start of May.
Kyiv military authorities have said that as a result of falling rocket fragments on the capital on June 1, three people were killed, including a child. Another 11 people were injured.
Two of those killed were hit by debris after they weren't able to enter a bomb shelter that was locked, sparking anger among many residents.
Klitschko said on June 2 that the city will immediately implement mandatory controls of all shelters to ensure they are always open.
"The city authorities are strengthening control over the work of shelters. Yes, there are questions. And we will work on it," he said, adding that residents can also volunteer to control facilities to make sure they are accessible.
"The enemy is now shelling the capital with ballistic missiles. When the alarm sounds, it's a matter of minutes. If you think you cannot get to a shelter in time, follow the rule of [standing by a junction of] two walls in the house," he added.
Meanwhile, Russian regional authorities said two villages in the country’s western Bryansk region were shelled by Ukrainian forces.
Regional Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram that no one was injured in the attacks.
The governor of the southern Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, said air-defense systems shot down "several" Ukrainian drones. He did not say if there were any casualties.
None of the reports could be independently verified.
The increase in attacks comes days after Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui toured Europe to try and make progress on a peace agreement to stop the fighting.
Speaking at a news briefing in Bejing on June 2, Li said that while the "risk of escalation" was "still high," China is "willing to do anything" to help mediate the situation and is willing to send another delegation for further peace talks.
With reporting by Reuters
U.S. Sanctions Iranians Over Alleged Plots To Kill John Bolton And Others
The U.S. imposed sanctions on June 1o on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official and others in Iran it says took part in wide-ranging plots to kill former national security adviser John Bolton and others around the world, including at least one additional U.S. government official. The alleged 2021 plot against Bolton, one of the best-documented of the alleged assassination efforts, is part of what U.S. prosecutors and former government officials describe as ongoing efforts by the IRGC to kill Trump-era officials behind a 2020 U.S. air strike that killed the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. To read the original story by AP, click here.
U.S. To Stop Giving Russia Certain START Nuclear Arms Data
The United States will stop giving Russia some notifications required under the New START arms control treaty to retaliate for Moscow's "ongoing violations" of the accord, the State Department said on June 1. In a fact sheet posted on its website, the department said the United States would also stop giving Russia flight telemetry information on launches of U.S. intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The State Department said international law permits such measures to induce a state to return to compliance with its international obligations.
U.S. Envoy Warns About Russian Efforts To Use Disinformation To Divide U.S. Allies In Balkans
SOFIA -- The Kremlin is "weaponizing information" to divide U.S. allies in the Balkans, and media outlets in the region should increase efforts to detect Russian disinformation and distinguish it from the truth, a top U.S. diplomat said on June 1 in an interview with RFE/RL.
James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center, cited North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Bulgaria as countries where the United States has discovered "the Kremlin is really working to try to divide our countries, divide our friendships with NATO allies, EU allies and friends, partners, by using this information as a weapon."
For the Kremlin, he said, it's part of a broader plan because Russia understands it can't win the argument on the ground over the war in Ukraine.
"They are trying to use whatever technique they can to divide the West in its support to Ukraine," he said.
Rubin spoke with RFE/RL in Sofia, one of the stops on his current European tour in which he’s talking to governments about developing the will to spot disinformation and the capacity to do something about it.
While every country has the right to free expression and news outlets have the right to report what foreign governments say, they shouldn’t repeat foreign government disinformation without reporting where it comes from, he said.
"We need to use whatever tools we can in a democratic society to distinguish between the noise in the information domain and those operations that are run by the Kremlin that are designed to divide us, that are intended to upset democratic process so that NATO support evaporates," Rubin said.
He said his job is to ensure there’s transparency and to expose any links to Russian media and let each government make its own decision on how to respond, noting that Bulgaria, along with Slovakia and Montenegro, are among the countries where Russia has spent money and corrupted politicians and media organizations.
The United States is also aware that China also has spent spend billions of dollars developing what he called "disinformation manipulation systems" around the world, but its tactics are different from Russia's.
The Chinese offer their Xinhua news service for free to newspapers in certain countries and do not allow the newspapers to use other independent Western news agencies.
"So that means that the African journalist writing a story about the world is writing it from a Chinese point of view in which horrible things happen in America, wonderful things happen in China," he said.
The United States is attempting to "make sure that that is transparent," he said, so that readers know that the newspaper is getting its news from China.
With reporting by Elitsa Simeonova of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service
Two New York Lawyers Sentenced For Helping Asylum Seekers From Former Soviet Union Falsify Affidavits
Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on May 31 that the couple's Dzhamgarova Firm "advised certain of its clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum in this country, fully understanding that those clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Mudslide Kills Three, Including Two Children, In Tajikistan's East
A massive mudslide killed three people, including two children, in the village of Qushai in eastern Tajikistan in the early hours of June 1. Officials of the Lakhsh district identified the victims as 38-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. Mountains cover 93 percent of the Central Asian nation's territory, and mudslides and avalanches kill dozens of people every year. Since January, natural disasters have killed more than 20 people in the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.
U.S. To Open Diplomatic Station In Arctic Norway
The United States will open its northernmost diplomatic station in the Norwegian Arctic town of Tromsoe, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 1 at a time when cooperation among the Arctic nations has been hit by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The region is becoming strategically more important as a shrinking ice cap opens up new sea lanes and attracts other nations seeking its largely untapped natural resources. Blinken's announcement comes three weeks after Norway took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Russia. The Arctic Council is a forum that was created in 1996 to discuss issues affecting the polar region. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
President Of Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan's Party Arrested In Lahore
The president of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's party was arrested on June 1 in the eastern city of Lahore on charges of corruption, a government official said. Pakistan is beset by political turmoil as Khan's party has faced a countrywide crackdown since his own arrest on May 9 for suspected graft sparked widespread protests that saw mobs ransacking state installations, including military assets. Pervez Elahi, the president of Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf party, joins a long list of key party leaders arrested in the security swoop to halt turmoil that has threatened to worsen instability in a country reeling from a crippling financial crisis. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Suspect From Cafe Bombing That Killed War Blogger
MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Darya Trepova, the woman suspected in the assassination of a prominent Russian war blogger at a St. Petersburg cafe in early April.
The Basmanny district court in the Russian capital ruled on June 1 that Trepova must stay in pretrial detention until at least September 3.
The 26-year-old Trepova was arrested on a charge of committing "a terrorist act with an organized group that caused intentional death" shortly after a blast in St. Petersburg on April 2 killed Vladlen Tatarsky, the pen name of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Fomin. Dozens of others were wounded in the attack.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said on June 1 that an arrest warrant was issued for the Kyiv-based Russian journalist Roman Popkov on suspicion of recruiting Trepova to carry out the assassination of Tatarsky.
The Investigative Committee also said Popkov was added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list.
Last week, Popkov was added to the registry of terrorists and extremists.
Tatarsky was known for his support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and support for Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Investigators say Trepova was working on the instruction of people representing Ukraine, which Moscow invaded in February 2022, sparking a war that has killed thousands.
Russian media have said that Tatarsky was meeting with attendees when a woman presented him with a box containing a small bust of him that apparently exploded.
Following her detention, Russia's Interior Ministry posted a video of Trepova, who may have been speaking under duress, telling an interrogator that she "brought the statuette there that exploded." When asked who had given her the bust, she replied that she would answer the question "later."
Tatarsky's death marked the second assassination of a prominent advocate of Russia's war against Ukraine. In August, nationalist TV commentator Darya Dugina was killed in a car bombing near Moscow.
Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the death of Dugina, whose father is well-known Russian war supporter and ideologue Aleksandr Dugin.
Kyiv denied involvement in Dugina's death.
With reporting by RIA Novosti, Interfax, and TASS
Watchdog Says Iran Executed At Least 142 People In May, Calls For International Pressure
Iran Human Rights (IHR) says at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."
The group added in a statement released on June 1 that so far this year, the death penalty has been administered at least 307 times, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.
"The purpose of the Islamic republic’s intensification of arbitrary executions is to spread societal fear to prevent protests and prolong its rule," IHR DIrector Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said in the statement.
Amid a wave of unrest -- which has posed the biggest threat to the country's leadership since the Islamic revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory-head-scarf law, officials have launched a brutal crackdown.
Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others are currently waiting on death row for their sentences to be carried out.
But IHR said the judiciary is using the death penalty in many areas, especially with regard to people convicted of drugs charges, 180 of whom were executed in the first five months of the year.
The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.
Officials have staunchly defended the use of the death penalty, with Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of the judiciary of the Islamic republic, saying on May 30 that those who, in his view, "should be executed" will have their sentences "executed."
"If the international community doesn’t show a stronger reaction to the current wave of executions, hundreds more will fall victims to their killing machine in the coming months," IHR's Amiry-Moghaddam said.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Russian Security Service Claims Thousands Of Diplomats' iPhones Hacked; Moscow-Based Kaspersky Also Hit
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claims thousands of iPhones belonging to the country's diplomats have suffered a massive hacking attack.
The FSB said in a statement on June 1 that hackers allegedly targeted the iPhones of diplomats working at Russian embassies and consulates in countries that are members of NATO, former Soviet republics, as well as in China, Israel, and Syria.
The statement did not give any details or evidence of the alleged cyberattack, just saying that an "unknown" app that targets vulnerable parts of the iOS operational system was used by the hackers.
"The information obtained by Russian special services indicates close cooperation between the U.S. company Apple with the national security community, namely with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and confirms that the declared policy of providing confidentiality for the personal data of the users of Apple devices does not correspond to the reality," the FSB statement said, without giving any information to back up the allegation.
Apple denied the allegation, saying in a statement quoted by Reuters that it has "never worked with any government to insert a backdoor into any Apple product and never will." The NSA declined to comment, according to the news agency.
The FSB statement was issued a few hours before the Moscow-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab said an undisclosed number of its employees' iPhones were hacked using sophisticated malware.
Kaspersky said the "extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack" delivered an invisible message that exploited vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system and that information from the phone was then transmitted to remote servers. Kaspersky said the hacking campaign targeted the company's "top and middle-management."
Kaspersky also issued a technical report saying it noticed "suspicious activity that originated from several iOS-based phones" while monitoring traffic on its own corporate Wi-Fi network. The report, which outlined how it said the malicious software worked, describes how the company created off-line backups to inspect the iPhones, and said first traces of the hack date back to 2019 and it is ongoing.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the FSB's statement "deserves attention," though "we do not have the authority" to restrict the usage of iPhones by officials.
Peskov added that while some of Kremlin officials use iPhones, others have also started replacing iPhones with other brands.
Russian media reported in March that some Russian officials allegedly were told to ditch their iPhones over security fears.
Apple and the NSA have previously clashed over securing a so-called back door to allow access to user data. The company has strenuously refused.
In 2021, a mass break-in to Apple products via the Pegasus spying program created by an Israeli company, the NSO Group, was registered. The program was used by intelligence agencies of other countries.
Apple has sued the NSO Group.
Apple stopped direct sales of iPhones in Russia last year over the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. However, legalized import programs still exist to bring the phones into the country and sell them without the company's permission.
With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Reuters
Belarusian Activist Sentenced To More Than Four Years In Prison For Caricatures
A court in Belarus's western city of Baranavichy has sentenced activist Ihar Shumilau to 4 1/2 years in prison for posting online caricatures of several officials, including the country’s authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 1 that the Baranavichy City Court sentenced Shumilau, who lost a leg in a traffic accident 10 years ago and has an 11-year-old son, on May 30 after finding him guilty of insulting and libeling Lukashenka and several top officials.
Shumilau was initially detained in late February and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of "distributing extremist materials."
He was not released after he served his term and instead immediately sent to pretrial detention on the new charges that he was found guilty of and sentenced for on May 30.
Vyasna also said on June 1 that the central district court in Minsk on May 30 handed a two-year parole-like sentence to children's author Yana Tsegla.
Tsegla was found guilty of the "organization and preparation of actions that blatantly disrupt social order," a charge many Belarusians have faced for protesting against Lukashenka after he claimed victory in a 2020 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged.
Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.
Thousands of others have been detained, and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.
Group Using Forged Schengen Visas For Trips To Europe Uncovered In Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on June 1 that a group allegedly involved in organizing illegal travel to European countries via Kyrgyzstan by using forged Schengen visas has been uncovered. "More than 40 foreign nationals who became victims of the activities of the organizers of the illegal migration via Kyrgyzstan have been identified," the UKMK said, without giving any other details. It remains unclear if the alleged perpetrators were apprehended. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Insulting Former Kazakh President Nazarbaev Set To Be Decriminalized
ASTANA -- Lawmakers in Kazakhstan are poised to scrap an article in the Criminal Code that envisions prosecution for insulting former President Nursultan Nazarbaev as President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev continues to distance himself from his predecessor.
Kazakh lawmaker Snezhanna Imasheva said on June 1 that Criminal Code Article 373, according to which the public insulting or any other encroachment of the "honor and dignity" of the first president of Kazakhstan, can be punishable by up to five years in prison, will be canceled. The Justice Ministry later confirmed Imasheva's statement.
Toqaev has made a series of moves since January 2022 to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019.
Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of "elbasy."
The announcement on deleting Article 373 comes more than four months after Kazakh lawmakers annulled the Law on the First President -- the Leader of the Nation (Elbasy).
Although the law was canceled, Nazarbaev himself continues to have immunity from prosecution in accordance with the law on presidents.
Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression felt during his reign.
Those feelings came to a head in January last year when unprecedented antigovernment nationwide protests were sparked by a fuel price hike.
The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich nation's wealth.
Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges, of whom some were handed prison terms.
European Council President Voices Hope On Normalization Of Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations
European Council President Charles Michel said he will have a "very important meeting" on June 1 with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on the sidelines of the European Political Community summit in Moldova. "I had the opportunity to talk with the two leaders a few weeks ago in Brussels. We have made some progress and we hope to confirm today the political will to normalize relations between the two countries," Michel said. Azerbaijan's ambassador to France suggested last week that Baku and Yerevan could sign a peace agreement during the summit regarding their decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.
Memorial Rights Group Branch In Yekaterinburg Fined For 'Discrediting' Russian Armed Forces
A court in Russia's Urals city of Yekaterinburg on June 1 fined a local branch of the Memorial human rights group 300,000 rubles ($3,700) for allegedly discrediting Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The charge stemmed from the group's placing of materials online that were critical of the war in February as the group marked the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion. Memorial branch chief Aleksei Mosin said the court ruling will be appealed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Hackers Release Iranian Documents Revealing New Details Of Azerbaijani Embassy Attack
A hacking group has released a batch of what it claims are classified Iranian government documents, some of which revealed new details of an attack early this year on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran.
The hackers, known as Uprising Until Overthrow and affiliated with the exiled opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), posted some of the documents on the Telegram messaging app on May 30. The MKO is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.
RFE/RL could not immediately verify the authenticity of the materials, some of which were undated and marked "very confidential," indicating they could be drafts.
Iran’s Presidential Office has dismissed reports of a cyberattack on its website, but it said there was some temporary downtime on it due to ongoing maintenance and the unveiling of an upgraded version of the site.
Azerbaijan has not officially commented on the reports.
Relations between Tehran and Baku have become increasingly strained in recent months, particularly after an armed attack on Baku's embassy in Tehran in January.
Azerbaijan halted the operation of its embassy in Iran after a security guard was killed and two others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on its grounds. Baku blamed the January 27 attack on the Iranian secret service and called it an "act of terrorism."
Some of the documents released by the hacking group offer previously unknown details of the embassy attack, including specifics about the identity and history of the attacker, his "ideological relations" with "Chechens," his interrogation, and some of his family members.
The leaks also said a police patrol left the scene of the embassy shooting after it took place. According to the documents, there was a 20-minute delay in law enforcement arriving at the scene.
In the aftermath of the attack, Azerbaijani diplomats and their families were quickly evacuated from Iran, sparking a severe diplomatic dispute. The leaked document suggests that the attack not only closed "windows of hope for improving relations" but pushed the trajectory of the bilateral relationship toward further escalation.
Tensions were further heightened following a failed assassination attempt in Baku on an Azerbaijani parliamentarian who has been critical of Iran.
Some of the leaked documents indicated an urgent need for a re-evaluation of Iran's diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan. The confidential document was purportedly dispatched to several top officials, including the foreign minister and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
The documents also give advice on strategic communication tactics, including attempts to distance Azerbaijani society from its government, sensitizing Russia to Azerbaijan's movements, and attributing Azerbaijan's policies from Iran to "Zionist" influences.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Moldova's EU Path Independent Of Transdniester Developments, Says Borrell
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the European Political Community summit on June 1 in Moldova that Chisinau has a clear journey to joining the European Union and "must work toward reforms to fulfill the path to integration." Asked if the Russian-backed breakaway Transdniester region would be an obstacle to Moldova's EU membership, Borrell said, "Moldova's path is independent of what's happening with Transdniester. Cyprus has become an EU member despite having a territorial dispute [with Turkey]. Moldova can do the same." Moldova and Ukraine were invited to start membership negotiations with the EU last year. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.
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