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Poland Summons Russian Ambassador Over Fighter Jet Incident

A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet (illustrative photo)
A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet (illustrative photo)

Poland has summoned Russia's ambassador over an incident involving a Russian fighter jet and Polish border guard aircraft over the Black Sea on May 5, the Polish Foreign Ministry said. The near-miss incident put NATO's air-policing units in a higher state of readiness and worsened already hostile relations between Russia and Poland, which has been a strong supporter of Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion. The incident occurred when a Polish border guard aircraft, on patrol for the EU's border agency Frontex, narrowly avoided a collision with a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea, Romania and Poland say. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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North Macedonia Announces Deal To Build Country's Largest Wind Farm

A wind farm in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina (file photo)
A wind farm in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina (file photo)

North Macedonia's government on June 25 formally announced a $500 million project with investor Alcazar Energy Partners to build the largest wind farm in the country.

The project will significantly boost energy independence and foreign investment and will be the largest investment in renewable energy sources in North Macedonia, Prime Minister Hristijan Mickoski said.

The wind farm will be located in the country's southeast, with a capacity to generate up to 400 megawatts of renewable energy.

Construction on a total of 55 wind turbines is expected to begin in the second half of 2025, representatives of the company said on June 25 in Skopje. The first electricity is expected to be produced in the second half of 2027.

Once operational, the wind farm is scheduled to produce enough energy to power more than 100,000 households annually, while avoiding the release of more than 670,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Alcazar Energy Partners said in a statement that grid connections with Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Kosovo, will help reduce energy shortages and support the transition to renewable energy in the Western Balkans.

Company managing partner Daniel Calderon said Alcazar Energy "sees North Macedonia as a promising investment location for renewable energy."

The firm, which focuses on renewable energy projects in emerging markets, is headquartered in Luxembourg and has an advisory team based in Dubai.

In its portfolio, Alcazar Energy lists five solar photovoltaic plants and two wind farms in Jordan and Egypt. It began a wind-park project in Montenegro in September, according to its website.

Mickoski leads a new right-wing government that had its first working day on June 24. Mickoski promised a "furious start to projects," including the promotion of new investments, after his government was approved on June 23.

With reporting by AP

Hungary's 'Sovereignty Protection' Office Launches Investigation Into Transparency International

Transparency International Hungary yearly conference
Transparency International Hungary yearly conference

A Hungarian authority tasked with defending the country's sovereignty against foreign influence has launched an investigation into the Hungarian branch of anti-corruption organization Transparency International. Transparency International Hungary said on June 25 it had received a six-page letter announcing the investigation from Hungary's newly formed Sovereignty Protection Office, which has been condemned by rights groups as a means to stifle dissent. The authority requested financial and operational information and said it had initiated "a specific and comprehensive investigation" into Transparency International Hungary's activities. The group said it would comply but that it believes the office is unconstitutional.


Russia, Ukraine Exchange 90 Prisoners Each In Third Deal Brokered By U.A.E. This Year

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Russia said on June 25 it had exchanged 90 captive soldiers for an equal number of Ukrainian soldiers in a deal mediated by the United Arab Emirates.

"As a result of the negotiation process, 90 Russian servicemen who were in mortal danger in captivity have been returned from territory controlled by the Kyiv regime. In return, 90 prisoners of war of the Ukrainian armed forces were handed over," Russia's Defense Ministry said on Telegram.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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The ministry said the released Russian prisoners returned to Moscow for medical checks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also confirmed the prisoner swap on Telegram.

“Home is not just words,” Zelenskiy said. “Home is Ukraine. We remember all our people in Russian captivity. We continue to work for the liberation of each and every one.”

Zelenskiy said those exchanged primarily served in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya.

U.A.E. state media outlet WAM confirmed the U.A.E.’s role as mediator of the exchange. This marks the third time this year that the U.A.E. facilitated a prisoner swap, beginning on February 9 with the exchange of 100 prisoners on each side.

The U.A.E. also facilitated a May 31 prisoner exchange in which 75 prisoners were returned to Russia and Ukraine respectively.

The Ukrainian Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said the exchange on June 25 involved 32 National Guardsmen, 17 representatives of the Naval Forces, 15 army soldiers, eight Territorial Defense Forces members, and 18 Border Guards were part of the exchange.

The headquarters said 59 of the 90 Ukrainian servicemen released served in Mariupol.

Andriy Yermak, the Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, said those brought home included servicemen who defended the Azovstal steel mill in the port of Mariupol in 2022 and others taken prisoner when Russian forces captured the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

With reporting by Reuters

Russia Bans 81 Media Outlets Based In EU Countries

Microphones of European media outlets (file photo)
Microphones of European media outlets (file photo)

Russia on June 25 announced a ban on access to 81 different media outlets from 25 European Union countries, saying the action is in retaliation for an EU ban announced in May on several Russian media outlets.

The EU ban stripped the broadcasting rights in the bloc of what it described as four "Kremlin-linked propaganda networks," naming them as the Voice of Europe, the RIA Novosti news agency, Izvestia, and Rossiiskaya gazeta.

Among the 81 news outlets that the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was banning in retaliation are Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the leading print publications Der Spiegel and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany, Le Monde and Liberation in France, El Pais in Spain, and La Stampa and La Repubblica in Italy.

Austria's ORF state TV company, Ireland's RTE broadcaster, and Spain's EFE news agency were also among the outlets affected by the move.

The only EU countries with no media outlets on the banned list are Croatia and Luxembourg.

The ministry accused them of "systematically distributing inaccurate information" about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

"The Russian Federation has repeatedly warned at various levels that politically motivated harassment of domestic journalists and unjustified bans on Russian media in the EU will not go unanswered," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"In spite of this, Brussels and the capitals of the bloc's countries preferred to follow the path of escalation, forcing Moscow to adopt mirror and proportional countermeasures."

It said it would review the ban if the EU lifted its restrictions on RIA Novosti, Izvestia, and the Rossiiskaya gazeta.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the move was another sign of the Russian government's crackdown on journalism.

"They're afraid of their own people hearing the truth; hearing the truth about Russia's actions inside Russia, the actions by the government to repress their own people, about Russian's actions to invade a neighbor, and illegally occupy its neighbor," he said.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian State Duma, said the EU's ban on the Russian news outlets had shown that the West refused to accept any alternative point of view.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry criticized Moscow's decision and summoned the charge d'affaires of the Russian Embassy in Vienna.

"This decision is another, albeit unsurprising, step by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to suppress media diversity and thus keep his own population in the dark," the ministry said.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, more than a million websites have been blocked in Russia, including Facebook, Instagram, and X, as well as independent media websites, including RFE/RL. To bypass blocking, Russians use VPN services, which the authorities also regularly block.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Kremlin Announces Preparations For Indian PM's Visit To Russia 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 6, 2021.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 6, 2021.

The Kremlin announced on June 25 that it was preparing for a visit to Russia by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- his first since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. The dates of the trip will be announced later, assistant to the Russian President Yury Ushakov said. However, The Tribune, an Indian newspaper, wrote that Modi will visit Moscow on July 8, which immediately precedes the July 9-11 NATO summit in Washington. Modi and Putin spoke in early June by phone, and Modi last traveled in 2019, meeting Putin in Vladivostok. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

U.S. Designates Belarus 'State-Sponsor' Of Human Trafficking In 2024 Report

The cover of the Trafficking In Persons Report from 2023 (file photo)
The cover of the Trafficking In Persons Report from 2023 (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The United States has added Belarus to its human-trafficking list, saying it has uncovered evidence that Minsk set up forced-labor centers and took part in the transfer of children from Ukraine, among other trafficking violations.

The designation comes as a response to state-sponsored forced labor in Belarus and Belarus's transportation of Ukrainian children, said Cindy Dyer, the U.S. State Department’s ambassador-at-large on human trafficking, at a June 25 press conference.

The annual Trafficking In Persons Report, released on June 24, cites "labor therapy centers" inside Belarus which subject people to various kinds forced labor.

"In this scheme, the government forced thousands with drug or alcohol addiction, political prisoners, or prisoners with an 'asocial lifestyle' to perform a wide range of labor," Dyer said.

The report cited forced labor including woodworking, charcoal production, agricultural work, and metal fabrication.

Citing media, the report said up to 7,320 individuals were sent to these "labor therapy centers" in 2022. According to a Belarusian law cited in the report, individuals may be sent to these centers for 12-18 months.

The Trafficking In Persons report concluded in 2023, but Dyer said there was evidence that the “labor therapy centers” would continue into 2024.

"The government planned to increase these centers in 2024. We hear that they are trying to provide space for up to 10,000 individuals," Dyer said.

While Russia has been on the state-sponsored-trafficking-of-persons list, Belarus has not been on the list in at least four years. They are listed as Tier 3 states, which according to the report are those taking the least action to combat human trafficking.

Dyer called on Russia and Belarus "as an accomplice" to repatriate Ukrainian children.

"Belarusian authorities facilitated the transfer of Ukrainian children," Dyer said, referring to children taken from Ukraine since Russian launched its full-scale invasion in 2022. "All Ukrainian children transported to Belarus or transported to Russia are increasingly vulnerable to trafficking."

The International Criminal Court in The Hague last year issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and children's commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, charging them with the deportation of up to 20,000 Ukrainian children to Russia -- a war crime under international legislation.

Dyer also expressed concerns about fraudulent recruitment of foreign nationals to fight in Ukraine.

“Russia-affiliated forces reportedly used coercion, deception, and in some cases force in the recruitment of foreign nationals,” Dyer said.

Dyer said the deceptive employment occurs around the world, and listed Cubans, Nepalese, and Syrians among those most often targeted, as well as residents of South Asia.

Daghestani Official Fired After Deadly Attacks Gets 10 Days In Jail

It remains unclear what exactly Magomed Omarov was sentenced for. (file photo)
It remains unclear what exactly Magomed Omarov was sentenced for. (file photo)

The Supreme Court of the Russian North Caucasus region of Daghestan said on June 25 that the former governor of the Sergokala district, Magomed Omarov, who was fired this week after a deadly terrorist attack over the weekend, was sentenced to 10 days in jail on a "minor hooliganism" charge.

It remains unclear what exactly the former official was sentenced for.

Russian media reports said Omarov could face a terrorism charge over the fact that his two sons, Osman and Adil, as well as his nephew, Abdusamad Amadziyev, allegedly participated in a terrorist attack on a synagogue and an Orthodox church in the Daghestani capital, Makhachkala.

At least 21 people were killed and 45 wounded in the attacks, which occurred late on June 23 when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police station in Makhachkala and the region's other major city, Derbent.

Omarov was detained for questioning after police searched his home on June 23 right after the attacks and the head of Daghestan, Sergei Melikov, announced the decision to fire Omarov the next day.

Speaking at a session of the Daghestani parliament on June 25, Melikov said he had ordered a check of the backgrounds of all district governors and regional lawmakers.

"How could the district governor lead a municipality if he failed to properly bring his children up? Look at the members of that [terrorist] group -- they are all from wealthy families, who had good perspectives in sports, business, were on good positions," Melikov said.

Mostly Muslim-populated Daghestan has a history of armed Islamic militancy. It borders another volatile mostly Muslim-populated region in the North Caucasus, Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against separatists in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

With reporting by TASS, RIA Novosti, and RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities

Belarus's Tsikhanouskaya Says RFE/RL's Losik Incommunicado For 16 Months In Prison

Darya and Ihar Losik (undated)
Darya and Ihar Losik (undated)

Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, marking the fourth year that Ihar Losik has been in prison, said the RFE/RL journalist had been held incommunicado for some 16 months as he serves a 15-year sentence on charges he, his employer, and foreign governments have called politically motivated.

"Four years ago today, journalist Ihar Losik was arrested in Belarus. There has been no communication with him for over 480 days. His little girl, Paulina, is now living with her grandparents. I want to thank everyone who has joined us in fighting for his release," Tsikhanouskaya wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on June 25.

The 32-year-old was arrested in June 2020 and sentenced in December 2021 on several charges, including "organizing mass riots, taking part in mass disorder, incitement of social hatred," and several other charges that remain unclear.

He has maintained his innocence and calls all charges against him politically motivated.

Losik and about 150 other Belarusian political prisoners, including another RFE/RL journalist, Andrey Kuznechyk, and former would-be presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, are serving their terms in the same prison in the northern city of Navapolatsk.

It's known as one of the most restrictive and notorious penitentiaries in the country.

Initially, the penitentiary was made up of a number of temporary houses built for workers at a then-newly-built oil refinery in 1958.

It later ecame a prison where mostly members of organized criminal groups, noted crime kingpins, and so-called "thieves-in-law" served their terms.

Belarusian authorities started sending political prisoners there in 2010.

In October 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Belarus violated international human rights law by imprisoning Losik, concluding that his arrest and detention were "based solely on his journalistic activity and his exercise of the freedoms of expression and of association."

The U.S.-based rights group Freedom Now said at the time that the conclusion was made in response to a legal petition it filed along with the international law firm Dechert LLP.

Losik's parents said in February that the last letter they received from their son, who was placed in a cell-type premises (PKT) where letters, parcels from relatives, and visitations are banned, was on February 20, 2023.

Tsikhanouskaya's husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, as well as four other bloggers and opposition politicians and activists, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms along with Losik at the time.

In January 2023, Losik's wife, Darya Losik, was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of facilitating extremist activity. The charge stemmed from her interview with the Poland-based Belsat TV, which has been officially declared an extremist group by Minsk.

The couple's 4-year-old daughter Paulina is currently in the custody of Darya Losik's parents.

The U.S. State Department, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and several U.S. and EU politicians have called several times for Losik’s immediate release.

Ukraine, EU Hail Official Start Of EU Accession Talks With Kyiv, Chisinau

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

Ukraine officially opened accession talks with the European Union on June 25 in Luxembourg, a move that marks a watershed moment for the country's aspirations to eventually join the bloc.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the official start of the negotiations, saying that the European project was only truly complete with Ukraine as its part.

"As of today, we have full confidence -- Ukraine will definitely become a full member of the European Union," he said in a video address from Kyiv.

Ukraine's delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna, includes more than 30 officials, mostly representatives of the government.

"This is a truly historical moment for my country. All the nation stands as one behind this decision," she told reporters as she arrived for the ceremony to mark the opening of talks.

Stefanishyna said that as Russia's attack on Ukraine rages on, the hope embodied in the opening of talks will give the country's citizens "the moral power to continue withstanding."

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, whose country currently holds the EUs rotating presidency, said that "this is a historic moment" for all those involved and pledged the EU's continued support for Ukraine.

"Russia's unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine and salutes the resilience of the Ukrainian people," Lahbib said.

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

Moldova also launched its membership talks later on June 25. The negotiations will be arduous for both countries and could take years.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Moldova and Ukraine, saying the start of accession negotiations "is very good news" for the citizens of the two countries and the entire European Union.

"The road ahead will be difficult, but full of opportunities," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Tajikistan Toughens Punishment For Soothsaying Amid 'Anti-Witchcraft' Campaign

Women wait to see a fortune teller in Dushanbe.
Women wait to see a fortune teller in Dushanbe.

Tajikistan has toughened the punishments for soothsaying and performing "healing sessions" for sick and disabled people as part of an ongoing campaign against those involved in fortune-telling, sorcery, or witchcraft.

According to amendments introduced to the Central Asian country's Criminal Code last week, sorcerers and fortune tellers will now face up to two years in prison or a hefty fine of up to 144,000 somonis ($13,350) .

Previously, according to a 2008 law that outlaws soothsaying as a form of witchcraft, the punishment did not envision imprisonment, while the fine for performing fortune-telling was up to 3,000 somonis ($280).

The campaign against witchcraft has been ratcheted up in recent weeks after multiple videos showing men and women "repenting" for performing soothsaying and "healing sessions" for disabled persons to earn money were aired on television.

It is not clear where and in what conditions the videos were shot.

Relatives of some individuals shown in the videos "repenting" for their soothsaying activities told RFE/RL that not all those who were shown on television as magicians were engaged in fortune telling or healing activities.

Lawyer Shokirjon Hakimov questioned the showing of "repenting" individuals on television before their trial.

Hakimov told RFE/RL that the authorities showed their "incompetence" in understanding the concept of presumption of innocence, adding that showing "repenting" people on television across the country was "an act of humiliation."

An Interior Ministry official defended the practice, telling RFE/RL that it helped society tackle a "widespread and deep-rooted problem."

Although 90 percent of Tajikistan's population is Muslim -- a religion that considers soothsaying to be a sin -- many Tajiks also hold superstitious beliefs in magic, fortune tellers, and paranormal powers.

Even relatives of high-ranking military and government officials have been among the clients of the most elite soothsayers -- who often take hefty payments for their consultations.

In 2012, in an apparent effort to eradicate widespread soothsaying practices, Tajik authorities even introduced higher taxes for soothsayers, as if the profession was legal.

First Russian Transgender Politician Says She Was Forced To Detransition

Yulia Alyoshina (file photo)
Yulia Alyoshina (file photo)

Yulia Alyoshina, the first Russian transgender politician, says her announcement in May about detransitioning was made under pressure. Alyoshina told the Novaya Gazeta Baltia newspaper on June 25 that she was threatened with being confined to a psychiatric clinic if she continued to be a woman. Born in 1990 as Roman Alyoshin, the ex-chief of the Civic Initiative political party branch in the Siberian region of Altai changed gender to female in 2020. After the Supreme Court labeled the "international LGBT movement" extremist, Alyoshina quit politics. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Kyrgyz Jailed For Fighting For Russia In Ukraine Gets Early Release

Beknazar Borugul-uulu after his arrest (file photo)
Beknazar Borugul-uulu after his arrest (file photo)

A Kyrgyz man who was sentenced to five years in prison last year for joining Russia's Wagner mercenary group to fight in Ukraine has been released due to a January presidential amnesty decree, a Kyrgyz court announced on June 25. Beknazar Borugul-uulu was released after his term was cut by more than four years. Earlier this month, another Kyrgyz man, whose name was not disclosed, was sentenced to five years in prison for joining the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

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

Russian General Valery Gerasimov (left), President Vladimir Putin (center), and ex-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (file photo)
Russian General Valery Gerasimov (left), President Vladimir Putin (center), and ex-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (file photo)

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

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

It said the ICC's pretrial chamber composed of Presiding Judge Rosario Salvatore Aitala, Judge Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez, and Judge Haykel Ben Mahfoudh considered that Shoigu and Gerasimov are responsible for Russian missile strikes conducted between October 2022 and at least March 9, 2023, against Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

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

Shoigu was dismissed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May. He now heads Putin's Security Council.

Kyiv immediately hailed the ICC's announcement.

"We look forward to more arrest warrants in order to deprive Russia of its sense of impunity. The feeling that has fueled Russian crimes for decades. Accountability is the only way to put a stop to them," Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter.

"Shoigu and Gerasimov bear individual responsibility. This is an important decision. Everyone will be held accountable for evil," Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote earlier on X.

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

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

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

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

European Court Rules Russia Guilty Of Human Rights Abuses In Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar in Ukraine's Donetsk region. (file photo)
A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in Chasiv Yar in Ukraine's Donetsk region. (file photo)

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

Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Former Chechen Separatist Government Member Zakayev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishkek Court Extends Former Customs Official Matraimov's Pretrial Detention

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

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

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

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

Raimbek Matraimov
Raimbek Matraimov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrgyz Officials Say Leader, Members Of Banned Islamic Group Detained

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

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

Kyrgyz Prosecutor Seeks 8 Years In Prison For Government Critic

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

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

Russia Claims To Have Downed 30 Ukrainian Drones Over 2 Regions

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

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

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

People leave flowers at a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims on June 24.
People leave flowers at a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims on June 24.

The number of deaths following apparently coordinated attacks on June 23 that targeted Christian and Jewish religious sites and a police station in Russia's Daghestan region on June 25 rose to 21 as the North Caucasus region holds a second day of mourning.

At least 45 people were also wounded in the attacks that occurred late on June 23, when gunmen opened fire at two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police station in the cities of Derbent and regional capital Makhachkala.

Derbent regional chief Mavsum Ragimov said on June 25 that a police sergeant died of his wounds in the hospital, bringing the total number of victims to 16 police officers and five civilians, including an Orthodox priest.

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

Daghestan is a predominantly Muslim region that has a history of armed militancy and is located near Chechnya, where Russian forces fought two wars against separatists in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caucasus expert Denis Sokolov told RFE/RL that the attackers appear to be members of a rich and influential group of Daghestanis with ties to the leadership of republic, known as the Mekegin Clan, after their native village of Mekegi, in eastern Daghestan. Omarov used to be the right-hand man of the group's founder, Gamid Gamedov, a Daghestani finance minister who was assassinated in 1996, Sokolov said.

"This is this huge and very rich group, a family-like financial-political group, called the Mekegin Clan," Sokolov said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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

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

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

Zelenskiy Replaces Commander Of Ukraine's Joint Forces

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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