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Russia Adds Chess Champion Kasparov, Former Tycoon Khodorkovsky To 'Foreign Agents' Registry

At a forum in Vilnius on May 20, Garry Kasparov told reporters that the Russian public does not yet understand that the war is heading toward defeat and "Putin's dictatorship will not survive." (file photo)
At a forum in Vilnius on May 20, Garry Kasparov told reporters that the Russian public does not yet understand that the war is heading toward defeat and "Putin's dictatorship will not survive." (file photo)

The Russian Justice Ministry has added Kremlin critics Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, to its registry of "foreign agents."

The two prominent critics of the Russian government, both of whom live abroad, were labeled "foreign agents" for their connections to Ukraine, the ministry said on May 20.

The ministry said that Khodorkovsky, 58, and Kasparov, 59, had "sources" in Ukraine to finance their activities. Kasparov's ties to a U.S. human rights organization were also cited as a reason.

Those on the "foreign agents" registry must meet several requirements, including financial reporting and an obligation to label all posts on social media with a disclaimer. Violations are subject to administrative and criminal liability.

Russia has used the "foreign agents" label extensively against opponents, journalists, and human rights activists accused of conducting foreign-funded political activities.

Kasparov has lived in the United States for almost a decade. Khodorkovsky was one of Russia's most powerful businessmen in the 1990s before clashing with the Kremlin when President Vladimir Putin came to power. He spent 10 years in prison on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Putin politically and then moved to London.

For years, he helped to finance the Russian opposition organization Open Russia, which dissolved itself in May 2021 in the face of growing repression.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks in Vilnius at a forum in August 2021.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks in Vilnius at a forum in August 2021.

In addition, two online publications, Open Media and the MBKh news sites, and a legal aid group, Human Rights Postcards, backed by Khodorkovsky ceased operations in August after the sites were blocked by the Russian authorities.

Kasparov and Khodorkovsky, who actively oppose Putin and the war in Ukraine, participated in a conference organized by the Free Russia Forum on May 20 in Vilnius to discuss the consequences of the Kremlin's war in Ukraine for Russia and Europe.

Kasparov told reporters after a meeting with Lithuanian parliament speaker Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen that the Russian public does not yet understand that the war is heading toward defeat and "Putin's dictatorship will not survive."

According to the Baltic Times, Kasparov said sanctions against Russia should remain in place until it compensates Ukraine for war damage and those guilty of war crimes are brought to justice.

"Even if someone says the sanctions are not working, this is going to take time because the sanctions are actually stifling the Russian economy, and no Russian government can survive if the sanctions continue," he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and the Baltic Times

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U.S. Report Highlights Worsening Human Rights Abuses In Russia, Iran, Afghanistan

Russian police officers detain a man during an unsanctioned opposition rally in Moscow. (file photo)
Russian police officers detain a man during an unsanctioned opposition rally in Moscow. (file photo)

Russia has continued to show blatant disregard for human rights both in its unprovoked war against Ukraine and in the treatment of its own citizens over the past year, the U.S. State Department has said in its latest annual report on human rights around the globe, which also highlights the abuses committed by Iran's theocratic regime and the Taliban's mistreatment of Afghans -- especially its discrimination of women and girls.

Russian troops continued to commit numerous abuses and atrocities, some amounting to war crimes, the report said, highlighting the issuance by the International Criminal Court of arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for their role in the forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

"There were credible reports of summary execution, torture, rape, and attacks killing and injuring civilians and damaging or destroying civilian infrastructure by Russia’s forces in Ukraine, as well as war crimes, including those involving forced deportation or transfer of civilians, and the forced placement in foster care or adoption of Ukrainian children," the report noted.

At home, Russian authorities continued to step up the pressure on dissent and independent expression, imprisoning political opponents and anti-war protesters, clamping down on media outlets, prosecuting numerous people for expressing their opinions online, and forcibly closing down nongovernmental organizations.

More moves were made to persecute opposition politicians such as the sentencing of Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on charges including treason and the slapping of an extra 19 years for "extremism" on the already imprisoned Aleksei Navalny, who subsequently died under suspicious circumstances in February in a penitentiary in Russia's Arctic region.

"Tragically, as we saw with Aleksei Navalny’s unjust imprisonment in a Russian penal colony, incarceration can come with horrific conditions -- with abuse, even death," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on April 22 while presenting the report.

The report also highlighted a multitude of other human rights abuses committed by Russian authorities on Russia's territory and abroad, such as, but not limited to, arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; pervasive torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; and serious problems with the independence of the judiciary.

Harsh Punishments Meted Out In Iran

Brutal human rights abuses continue to take place and even worsen in Iran, where women and members of marginalized communities bear the brunt of the regime’s human rights violations and abuses, the report says, highlighting the harsh punishment meted out to prisoners, including executions, for bogus or unjust reasons.

"Women continued to face discrimination, including through enhanced means for enforcing the mandatory dress code, which led to acts of civil disobedience," the report said, adding that many people have reportedly disappeared during extended protests that were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police in September 2022.

The number of executions was up by more than one-third last year compared to 2022, with 798 people being put to death, some of them political dissidents.

Executions In Iran Drive Global Death-Penalty Spike
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"The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, some of which carried the death penalty, such as 'antirevolutionary behavior,' 'corruption on earth,' 'siding with global arrogance,' 'waging war against God,' and 'crimes against Islam,'" the report noted.

The Iranian regime is also guilty of serious violations outside its borders, which include enabling abuses by terrorist groups throughout the region by the Syrian government, Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq, and Yemeni Huthi militants, as well as the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, the document said.

Systemic Mistreatment, Discrimination In Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has resorted to systemic mistreatment of and discrimination against Afghanistan’s women and girls since it returned to power in August 2021 following the hasty withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.

"In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, 'immoral behavior,' end quote," Blinken said.

The report says Taliban authorities have issued more than 50 pieces of legislation "that effectively erase women from public life."

The Taliban authorities have shown continuous and widespread "disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses," the document says, adding that both the Taliban and their current arch-foe, the Islamic State group, have been using child soldiers.

Referring to the ongoing war in Gaza that was triggered by an October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, the report notes "serious abuses...by Hamas and Israel."

It says those abuses include unlawful or widespread civilian deaths and harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture, as well as "violence or threats against journalists."

British Foreign Secretary Holds Talks With Uzbek Counterpart In Tashkent

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron visits the Hazrati Imam Mosque in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on April 23.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron visits the Hazrati Imam Mosque in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on April 23.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron held talks with his Uzbek counterpart Baxtiyor Saidov in Tashkent on April 23, focusing on regional security, education, climate change, bilateral trade, and the development of business relations, according to official Uzbek media reports. Cameron held similar talks with top officials in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan earlier this week before making his way to the region's most populous nation of 37 million. Cameron will also visit Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia during his tour of Central Asia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

State Of Emergency Declared In Kyrgyz District Over Mudslides And Floods

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan's northwestern district of Talas declared a state of emergency on April 23 over ongoing mudslides and floods caused by heavy rains, which hit the region over the weekend. The latest mudslides were reported in the villages of Ar-Jar, Kok-Kashat, and Kara-Suu. Some 250 private houses have been damaged, as well as one bridge and several roads in the area. A day earlier, authorities in the southern Osh region announced a state of emergency after a mudslide killed one person while another local resident was killed by lightning. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Court In Tatarstan Reinstates Fine For Activist Who Supported RFE/RL Journalist

Iskander Yasaveyev must pay a fine for holding a placard reading "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal" during an authorized rally in December.
Iskander Yasaveyev must pay a fine for holding a placard reading "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal" during an authorized rally in December.

KAZAN, Russia -- A court in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, has reinstated a fine against sociologist Iskander Yasaveyev for holding a poster demanding the release of RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been held in Russian custody since October 18.

The Vakhitov district court ruled on April 22 that Yasaveyev must pay 15,000 rubles ($160) for holding a placard reading "Alsu Kurmasheva is a journalist, not a criminal" during an authorized rally in December in Kazan in support of all journalists currently held in Russian detention.

Yasaveyev was initially ordered to pay the 15,000-ruble fine on February 1 after he was found guilty by the same court of violating regulations for holding public events.

He appealed that ruling and on March 20, Tatarstan's Supreme Court canceled the sentence and sent the case back for retrial.

Yasaveyev's lawyers said on April 22 that they will appeal the new sentence as well.

Alsu Kurmasheva -- a Prague-based veteran journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship -- traveled to Russia in May last year for a family emergency.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in Kazan, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.

On October 11, a court in Kazan fined Kurmasheva 10,000 rubles ($106) for "failing to inform Russian officials about holding a second citizenship."

Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee said at the time that Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out the “purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia,” which, if received by foreign sources, “can be used against the security of the country."

It gave no further details.

Many critics and rights group say the so-called foreign agent law is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent.

On December 12, the Tatar-Inform news agency in Tatarstan and the Baza Telegram channel, both linked to the government, said Kurmasheva was additionally accused of distributing "fake" news about Russia's armed forces, a charge that comes with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

RFE/RL has called the cases a reprisal against her for her work as a journalist.

Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be held by Moscow in 2024, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals new level of war-time censorship.

Russia's leading human rights group Memorial has recognized Kurmasheva as a political prisoner.

Moscow has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested in March last year for allegedly spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny.

Kazakh Prosecutors Seek Lengthy Prison Terms For Coal Mine Managers Over Deadly Blast

A general view of the Lenin coal mine in the Kazakh town of Shakhtinsk where an explosion killed five miners in 2022.
A general view of the Lenin coal mine in the Kazakh town of Shakhtinsk where an explosion killed five miners in 2022.

Kazakh prosecutors on April 22 asked a court in the central town of Shakhtinsk to sentence four managers of the Lenin coal mine to prison terms of between 6 years and 7 years over an explosion that killed five miners in November 2022. Deadly accidents in the region’s mines are frequent. In 2006, a similar blast at the Lenin mine killed 41 miners. In 2021, an explosion in the Abai mine in the town killed six miners. According to Kazakh officials, more than 180 miners have died in blasts, mainly caused by methane gas leaks, in the last 30 years. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.

Iranian Rapper's Death Sentence Changed To 5 Years In Prison

Iranian rapper Saman Yasin (file photo)
Iranian rapper Saman Yasin (file photo)

Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin, who was detained during nationwide protests in 2022, has been sentenced to five years in prison, according to a verdict obtained by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

In sentencing Yasin, Branch 15 of Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court said Yasin will serve the punishment at a prison in the city of Kerman, as dictated by a fatwa from the Islamic republic's leader that bars Yasin from associating with others. Yasin is from the northwestern Kurdish region of Iran, while Kerman is located near the southeastern part of the country.

Legal sources noted that Yasin, who was involved in the "Women, Life, Freedom" protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged head scarf violation, was initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Hossein Sartipi, Yasin’s lawyer, confirmed on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that the sentence had been changed, remarking, "Saman Yasin was saved from execution."

Yasin has been in temporary detention for over 18 months. Sartipi said he plans to appeal the latest sentence.

The 25-year-old rapper recently made a plea from prison to the judiciary to "issue my death sentence" rather than continue holding him indefinitely without a trial after multiple court dates were set and then delayed.

Yasin described enduring a "mock execution" set up by prison officials before being moved to a prison in Karaj.

He has consistently maintained his innocence, releasing multiple audio recordings to publicize his claims. He has also reportedly launched at least one hunger strike in protest.

After the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in custody after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranians took to the streets across the country to protest a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The judiciary, at the urging of lawmakers, has instituted harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for offenders.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

In Sign Of Thawing Relations With Saudis, Iranian Pilgrims Leave For Mecca

Despite the recent thaw in relations, the resumption of flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia was delayed over technical issues, keeping pilgrims from making the trip until this year. (file photo)
Despite the recent thaw in relations, the resumption of flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia was delayed over technical issues, keeping pilgrims from making the trip until this year. (file photo)

For the first time in nine years, a group of Iranian pilgrims has arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, a sign of thawing relations between Tehran and Riyadh.

The arrival follows a restoration of full diplomatic ties in March 2023, which was mediated by China after a rift sparked by the 2016 execution of a Shi'ite cleric by Saudi Arabia and subsequent attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

Diplomatic efforts, including a significant meeting in Beijing between Ali Shamkhani, the former secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, and a visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Saudi Arabia, resulted in the lifting of restrictions on Iranian pilgrims. However, the resumption of flights from Iran to Saudi Arabia was delayed over technical issues, keeping pilgrims from making the trip until this year.

Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba, which is located in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and pilgrims walk around it seven times.

Unlike the haj, which is compulsory and subject to strict annual quotas, the Umrah can be performed at any time of the year and is not deemed compulsory.

A ceremony held at Tehran’s main airport on April 22 -- coinciding with an announcement from Iran Air that it would operate two daily flights carrying up to 260 pilgrims between various cities in Iran and Saudia Arabia -- was attended by Saudi Ambassador to Iran Abdullah bin Saud al-Anzi, marking a significant step toward increased cooperation between the two Middle Eastern powers.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

U.S. Senate Expected To Vote On Long-Delayed Ukraine Military Aid Bill

A Ukrainian Police investigator examines debris at television tower hit by a missile strike on Kharkiv, a city that has been vulnerable to air and missile attacks amid air defense shortages.
A Ukrainian Police investigator examines debris at television tower hit by a missile strike on Kharkiv, a city that has been vulnerable to air and missile attacks amid air defense shortages.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a long-delayed military aid package that includes more than $60 billion for Ukraine as early as April 23 after the House of Representatives passed the measure on April 20 following months of bickering.

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 package, which contains desperately needed aid for Ukraine's embattled military, is anticipated to pass in the Senate as early as April 23 and be sent to U.S. President Joe Biden for signing by the end of the week.

Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call on April 22 that the United States will "quickly provide significant new security assistance packages to meet Ukraine’s urgent battlefield and air defense needs," the White House said in a statement.

Ukraine has been under mounting Russian pressure over the past several months as its stocks of ammunition and air defense systems gradually ran out.

An intense campaign of Russian missile and drone strikes on Ukrainian cities has taken a large toll in human lives and has caused huge damage to the country's already battered energy infrastructure after more than two years of war.

Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter, that Biden told him he will sign the bill "immediately as soon as it is approved by the Senate."

If the timing for a vote is rapidly agreed, the Democratic-controlled Senate could pass the massive, $95 billion package, which also contains military aid for Israel and Taiwan, as soon as the afternoon of April 23. If Republicans opposed to the bill attempt to delay the process, a vote could be held on April 24.

The bill is expected to easily garner the 60 votes needed for approval.

Zelenskiy also told Biden about a strike on the TV tower in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which had occurred just before their conversation.

"I also informed President Biden about Russia's air terror using thousands of missiles, drones, and bombs, including the recent strike on the Kharkiv TV tower just minutes before we spoke," Zelenskiy wrote.

The missile strike broke the 240-meter television tower in half, as seen in footage circulating on the Internet.

The television tower, which went into operation in 1981, provides the region with radio and television reception and is located six kilometers from the city center. The digital television broadcasting signal was disrupted, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

Ukraine's air defense shortages have made Kharkiv, a city with a population of more than 1 million located just 35 kilometers from the Russian border, more vulnerable to air and missile attacks. The power supply has already been disrupted and electricity is only available on an hourly basis.

“Russia clearly signals its intention to make the city uninhabitable,” Zelenskiy said in his post on X about his call with Biden.

In the latest strikes, Russian drones targeted Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa early on April 23, wounding nine people, including four children, of whom two are less than a year old, regional administration chief Oleh Kiper said, adding that several buildings caught fire.

Ukrainian air defense systems shot down 15 out of 16 drones launched by Russia at the regions of Odesa, Kyiv, Mykolayiv, and Cherkasy, the air force said in a statement on Telegram.

All drones targeting Kyiv were destroyed, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Ukrainian capital's military administration, said in a message on Telegram adding that there were no casualties in the city and no damage was caused.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

U.K. To Announce Largest-Ever Military Support Package For Ukraine

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to announce a $617-million aid package for Ukraine -- Britain's largest ever -- on a visit to Poland on April 23, the British government said in a statement. "Ukraine is facing an existential threat as Russia continues its barbaric invasion, risking the security and stability of all of Europe," the statement said. Britain has been one of Ukraine's staunchest supporters. The extra funding brings the U.K.'s total military aid for this financial year to $3.71 billion. Britain will also send what it said is its largest-ever single package of equipment, the statement added.

Swiss Report Big Drop In Frozen Russian Assets

Swiss authorities said the main reason for the decline was a decrease in the market value of the shares and other financial assets that have been blocked.
Swiss authorities said the main reason for the decline was a decrease in the market value of the shares and other financial assets that have been blocked.

Switzerland has frozen Russian assets worth 5.8 billion Swiss francs ($6.36 billion), the government said on April 23, a big drop that could intensify international pressure on the neutral country to do more to sanction Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. The figure, which applies to assets frozen at the end of 2023, was down from the 7.5 billion francs in assets frozen at the end of 2022. The main reason was a decrease in the market value of the shares and other financial assets that have been blocked, said the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which oversees sanctions.


Updated

Children Among 9 Wounded In Russian Attack On Odesa

Odesa's regional governor said several buildings caught fire in the latest attacks on the city on April 23.
Odesa's regional governor said several buildings caught fire in the latest attacks on the city on April 23.

A Russian drone attack on Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odesa early on April 23 wounded nine people, including four children, regional administration chief Oleh Kiper said, adding that several buildings caught fire. Ukrainian air defense systems shot down 15 out of 16 drones launched by Russia at the regions of Odesa, Kyiv, Mykolayiv, and Cherkasy, the air force said in a statement on Telegram. All drones targeting Kyiv were destroyed, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Ukrainian capital's military administration, said in a message on Telegram adding that there were no casualties or damage in the city. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here and here.

Kosovo, Serbia Trade Accusations At UN Security Council Meeting

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani speaks at a UN Security Council meeting in New York on April 22.
Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani speaks at a UN Security Council meeting in New York on April 22.

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo traded accusations on April 22 at a session of the UN Security Council in New York called to consider a report on the work of UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbia of preventing the integration of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo into Kosovar institutions, while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the world is not paying enough attention to the plight of Serbs living in the region.

Osmani also accused Serbia of "intimidating" the Serbian community in the region, citing as an example the recent detention of Kosovar police officers at the border for what Serbian officials said was "security checks.”

Osmani also noted that a vote on April 21 in four mostly Serbian municipalities in the north of the country fell far short of the 50 percent required to validate the results amid a boycott by Serbian List, the leading Serbian political grouping. The vote was an initiative to remove the current mayors and elect new ones through a recall process.

Speaking at the UN in New York, she said that Serbs in Kosovo “can thank Serbian President Vucic” for the fact that Albanian mayors remain at the head of the municipalities.

Vucic, whose country has refused to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, was also present for the council meeting, telling its 15 members that the international community paid a lot of attention to the incident in Banjska in September but not to the attacks on the Serbian minority.

The incident near Kosovo's border with Serbia escalated tensions dramatically when an ethnic Albanian Kosovar police officer was left dead after an encounter with masked commandos allegedly led by a Kosovar Serb politician who has long enjoyed Belgrade’s support. Three of the gunmen were also killed.

"We will not allow it to be used as an alibi for the persecution of Serbs (in Kosovo)," he said, adding that poor conditions are being deliberately created for the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

The incident is a "consequence of repression" in Kosovo, said Vucic, who also raised the Central Bank of Kosovo’s decision to ban the Serbian currency, the dinar, for cash payments, calling it “an ethnically motivated campaign against Serbs and non-Albanians" in Kosovo.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said that Serbia has not made significant progress in bringing responsible justice when it comes to the incident in Banjska.

"It is important that Serbia works with KFOR so that this [kind of] attack does not happen again," he told the Council, referring to NATO’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

The detention of Kosovar citizens traveling through Serbia and “the arrest of Serbs working in the Kosovo police" are also concerns of the United States, Wood said, calling such actions “a violation of previous agreements on free movement."

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said that the situation in Kosovo is worrying because of the "ethnically motivated violence by the authorities in Pristina."

He said the European Union was “standing by” Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and said Brussels and Washington aim for Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo and take away its territory.

Caroline Ziadeh, who heads the UNMIK, told the council that tensions have increased in recent months and one of her key observations has been "dissatisfaction with what was achieved in the [Pristina-Belgrade] dialogue," which Brussels and the United States have been trying to restart.

Ziadeh said that it has never been more urgent to carry out "the full implementation of the agreements reached under the auspices of the European Union to help solve the major crises and series of crises that have occurred."

U.K.'s Cameron Seeks To Define Common Interests On Visit To Kyrgyzstan

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron speaks with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on April 22.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron speaks with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on April 22.

BISHKEK -- British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he's seeking to highlight the common interests of Britain and Kyrgyzstan on his first visit to the Central Asian country in his new job as foreign secretary.

Cameron told RFE/RL in an interview on April 22 that he believes the two countries had "a whole series" of common interests on their agendas, particularly the areas of climate change, trade, education, and security.

The former British prime minister, who 11 years ago was the first British leader to visit Kyrgyzstan, also said his meetings with President Sadyr Japarov covered the importance of healthy and functioning democracies, and that this is in the interest of both Britain and Kyrgyzstan.

Cameron noted that the world has become a more competitive and contested place in which "big powers are muscling around" trying to win partners. Without naming any country in particular, he said his message to Kyrgyzstan was that it doesn't have to choose one partner over another or reject partners it already has.

"We're saying we are a new partner that is keen to work with you with common interests, where we can make success together," Cameron told RFE/RL.

On Central Asian Trip, U.K. Foreign Secretary Cameron Criticizes Russia's 'Aggression'
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He noted that Kyrgyzstan was "investing hugely" in education, while Britain believes in the "importance of the English language" and wants to help promote that.

Asked about concerns over the deteriorating state of press freedom and the shrinking civic space in Kyrgyzstan, a country that was once called "an island of democracy in Central Asia," and other states in the region, Cameron said he raised these issues in his meeting with Japarov.

"We talked about the importance of voluntary bodies, charities, nongovernmental organizations, civil society organizations," he said.

Countries should always respect each other's differences and approaches, but he said that in his view, civil society organizations play a role in "helping to make our democracies work better, and that's the approach very much that we take in the United Kingdom."

On Russia's war in Ukraine, Cameron said his message was that it's wrong because Ukraine is an independent sovereign country just like Kyrgyzstan, and Britain is helping Ukraine to fight off the illegal invasion.

"But I think there's a broader message for everyone about the importance of sovereignty, the importance of borders, the importance of respecting those things, and I think that's a message that people want to hear [and are] very receptive to hear," he said.

Cameron visited Israel before arriving in Central Asia. He said his message there was that Britain wants the fighting to stop and the hostages released.

"Our message is one of: let's have a pause in the fighting. Let's turn that into the hostage release. Let's turn that into a sustainable cease-fire where we deal with the problems of the conflict," he said.

Biden Assures Zelenskiy That He Will Sign Military-Aid Bill Immediately

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a press conference at the White House in Washington in December 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a press conference at the White House in Washington in December 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call on April 22 that he will immediately sign legislation providing military aid as soon as it reaches his desk, and the aid will be dispatched quickly to Ukraine.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a massive national security aid package that includes more than $60 billion for Ukraine on April 23 and send it to Biden for his signature.

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.

Zelenskiy said on X that Biden assured him during their phone call that the package of aid would include the type of aid that Ukraine needs to fend off advancing Russian forces.

"I have the president's assurance that it will be fast and powerful and will strengthen our anti-aircraft, long-range, and artillery capabilities," Zelenskiy said.

He also told Biden "about Russia's air terror using thousands of missiles, drones, and bombs," including an attack on the Kharkiv TV tower just a few minutes before their conversation.

The digital television broadcasting signal was disrupted, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

A video circulating on social media showed the main 240-meter-tall mast of the tower breaking off and falling. It was unclear what hit the tower, but Kharkiv prosecutors said Russia had likely used a Kh-59 cruise missile in the attack.

The television tower, which went into operation in 1981, provides the region with radio and television reception and is located 6 kilometers from the city center.

The northeastern Ukrainian city, with a population of more than 1 million, has been under heavy Russian fire since mid-March. The power supply has already been disrupted and electricity is only available on an hourly basis.

"Russia clearly signals its intention to make the city uninhabitable," Zelenskiy said in his post on X on his call with Biden.

Russian forces also shelled areas near the village of Yurchenkove in the Kharkiv region, killing a man who was driving an excavator, according to the regional prosecutor's office.

"A direct hit was recorded on an excavator driven by a 34-year-old driver. A fire broke out, the man died on the spot," the prosecutor's office said on Facebook.

Russian troops also shelled the town of Krasnohorivka in the Donetsk region, killing a 70-year-old woman, said the head of the regional military administration, Vadym Filashkin, adding that three high-rise buildings were also damaged in the attack.

WATCH: On the eve of the Ukraine aid vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, gunners with Kyiv's 148th Separate Artillery Brigade told RFE/RL that Ukraine would lose the war without more ammunition.

Ukrainian Frontline Gunners Await More U.S. Shells For 'Best Artillery Weapon'
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The Russian Defense Ministry claimed its forces had captured Novomykhailivka, a village in the eastern Donetsk region, where its forces have steadily been gaining ground.

The claim of Novomykhaylivka's capture came as the Ukrainian military repelled 14 attacks in the area of Lyman and 12 in the area of Bakhmut, according to the April 22 evening summary of the General Staff of the Ukrainian military.

There were a total of 62 combat clashes recorded during the day, the General Staff said.

The assessment did not confirm the Russian claim that Novomykhaylivka had been captured. It said the Ukrainian military "continues to restrain" Russian forces in the areas of Novomykhaylivka and two other settlements west of Avdiyivka, which Russian forces captured in February.

Military analysts have said that Vuhledar, which lies south of Novomykhaylivka, is the next target for Russian forces in this area.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

EU Ministers Agree To Expand Iran Sanctions

Several EU countries called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.
Several EU countries called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.

EU foreign ministers agreed in principle on April 22 to expand sanctions on Iran following Tehran's missile and drone attack on Israel, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said. The European Union already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran, for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia. But several EU countries had called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.

Ex-Employee Of Banned Belsat TV Jailed On Extremism Charge

The Minsk City Court on April 22 sentenced a former employee of the Poland-based Belsat television channel, which was declared extremist and banned in the country in November 2021, to two years in prison. The court found Anastasia Matsyash guilty of being a member of an extremist group and also ordered her to pay a 20,000-ruble ($6,100) fine. Matsyash rejected the charge and maintains her innocence. Several journalists from Belsat, as well as individuals who gave interviews to the news agency, have been imprisoned on extremism charges after it was banned in Belarus. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Russia Sentences Spokesman For Facebook Owner To Six Years In Prison

Andy Stone (file photo)
Andy Stone (file photo)

A military court in Russia on April 22 sentenced Andy Stone, the spokesman for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, in absentia to six years in prison for the "justification of terrorism." Prosecutors sought seven years in prison for Stone. Earlier in February a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Stone, who was targeted due to a policy change he announced in March 2022, less than a month after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The policy shift by Meta allowed some calls for violence against Russian invaders, including President Vladimir Putin, to be made on Facebook or Instagram. To read the original story on Current Time, click here.

Mudslides Triggered By Heavy Rains In Kyrgyzstan Kill 1

A Kyrgyz man clears water from a flooded house in Jalal-Abbad on April 21.
A Kyrgyz man clears water from a flooded house in Jalal-Abbad on April 21.

Kyrgyzstan’s Emergencies Ministry said over the weekend that a mudslide in the southern region of Osh killed one person on April 20. Several roads were closed due to the mudslide in the districts of Alai, Kara-Kulja, Ozgon, and Kara-Suu. Another mudslide in the southern region of Jalal-Abad damaged 45 households and four private houses in the village of Barpy. Kyrgyzstan's north has been plagued by severe flooding for weeks. In neighboring Uzbekistan, heavy rains caused mudslides and floods in the eastern region of Samarkand over the weekend. No casualties were officially reported there. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here. To watch a video about mudslides and floods in Uzbekistan, click here.

Ex-Wagner Mercenary Allegedly Dismembers Woman After Returning From Ukraine

The suspect was recruited from a penitentiary by the Wagner mercenary group in late 2022. (file photo)
The suspect was recruited from a penitentiary by the Wagner mercenary group in late 2022. (file photo)

Police in Russia's northwestern Leningrad region detained Aleksei Serov, a former fighter for the Wagner mercenary group, over the weekend on suspicion of killing and dismembering a 20-year-old woman. The 42-year-old man was detained after police found a suitcase in his apartment with parts of a human body. Serov confessed that he killed his acquaintance after a quarrel and dismembered her and planned to get rid of the body. Serov was recruited by the Wagner mercenary group in late 2022 from a penitentiary in Udmurtia, where he was serving a 12-year prison term for murder. He was pardoned after serving for Russia in Ukraine. To read the original story from RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Updated

Additional Rescue Teams Sent To West Kazakhstan To Tackle Flood Situation

Local residents and volunteers prepare sandbags to strengthen flood defenses in Ishim in Russia's Tyumen region on April 21.
Local residents and volunteers prepare sandbags to strengthen flood defenses in Ishim in Russia's Tyumen region on April 21.

ASTANA -- The Kazakh government has sent additional rescue teams to West Kazakhstan Province to deal with ongoing floods, which have hit much of the country's north and west. Meanwhile, across the border in southern Russia, officials braced for the Ishim River to crest.

The Kazakh government said in a statement on April 22 that 600 military personnel and experts from the Emergencies Ministry had been deployed to the region, where the water level in the Zhaiyq River in the regional capital, Oral, reached 8.5 meters a day earlier, which is above the point where it is considered "dangerous."

Emergencies Ministry spokesman Asqar Sharip said on April 22 that 23,085 people returned to their houses after water levels went down in the northern provinces of Amola, Aqtobe, Atyrau, and North Kazakhstan. According to Sharip, 8,872 people, including 3,852 children, remain in temporary shelters.

"The water was diverted from 4,554 private houses and 2,767 households. More than 11.4 million cubic meters of water have been pumped out, 5.3 million sand sacks were used to stop the water," Sharip said.

"Works to divert and pump out water from 5,842 private houses and 1,061 households are under way in the four regions named."

Kazakh officials said earlier that at least seven people died and two went missing in the floods.

Kazakhs Prepare For Second Wave As Central Asia, Russia Struggle With Floods
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In neighboring Russia, emergency officials said on April 22 that the situation remains tense in several regions flooded by a combination of heavy rains and a massive snowmelt sparked by unseasonably warm weather.

Flooding has washed across the region, forcing tens of thousands to seek shelter and clean water supplies.

The Foundation for Public Control over Environmental and Population Safety said on April 22 that in the Russian region of Kurgan that borders Kazakhstan, floodwaters had pushed uranium waste from the defunct Dobrovolnoye uranium field into the Tobol River.

Subsidiaries of Russia's state nuclear agency Rosatom produced uranium at Dobrovolnoye and on April 16 it said the floods didn't pose a threat to the uranium mines in Dobrovolnoye.

Rosatom said four days later that the floods had bypassed the uranium mines.

However, the foundation on April 22 issued a video showing that the territory in the area between the villages of Trud-i-Znaniye and Zverinogolovskoye were completely underwater, undercutting Rosatom's claim.

Adding to that, Andrei Ozharovsky of the Radioactive Waste Safety program said uranium salts had been washed into the Tobol River and will cause an increase in radiation-related illnesses in the region.

The situation also remains especially dramatic in the Russian regions of Tyumen and Orenburg, officials said, with thousands of people forced to leave their homes.

"The situation with flooding in the Tyumen region remains tense," regional Governor Aleksandr Moor said on Telegram.

"The Ishim River in the city has exceeded 10.5 meters. The rise over the last 24 hours was 140 centimeters. But the intensity of the increase has subsided and we expect the maximum water level to be hit in the near future," he said, adding that the river could crest as early as late on April 22.

As of April 22, officials said 14,743 private houses remain under water in 190 towns and villages in Russia's southern regions bordering Kazakhstan.

With reporting by Tengrinews
Updated

Muscovite Gets Five Years Of 'Forced Labor' For Talking To RFE/RL

Yury Kokhovets (file photo)
Yury Kokhovets (file photo)

A Moscow court on April 22 sentenced a 38-year-old man to five years of so-called forced labor for condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine during an on-street interview in July 2022 with a reporter from RFE/RL.

The Ostankino district court also banned Yury Kokhovets from administering websites for four years.

The punishment defined as "forced labor" in Russia means that convicts will not serve their terms in prison, but instead may stay home and be sent to work at an industrial facility in their towns, cities, or sent to other places as designated by the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN).

A certain portion of their salaries are deducted by the State Treasury.

His lawyer, Yelena Sheremetyeva, said the court ruled that Kokhovets will be paying 10 percent of his monthly salary to the state.

Kokhovets was detained in March 2023 and charged with spreading false information about Russia's armed forces. He was later released but ordered not to leave Moscow.

In July 2022, Kokhovets was approached by an RFE/RL journalist who asked him if he thought a detente between Russia and NATO countries was needed.

"Of course we need (de-escalation), but it all depends on our government. It is our government that started it all.... It is Russia who created all these problems," Kokhovets told RFE/RL. "I don't see any problems with NATO, it is not planning to attack anyone."

He added that Russian forces had killed civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha "for no reason at all." Moscow denies accusations it has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Kokhovets pleaded partially guilty, denying that his statements during the interview with RFE/RL were hatred-based. He also stated at the trial that he was exercising his constitutional right to freely express his opinion while talking with the RFE/RL journalist.

His lawyer also said at the trial that her client had no hatred toward anyone when he talked to RFE/RL.

According to Sheremetyeva, the "proof" of her client's guilt was based purely on a forensic linguistic examination of Kokhovets's speech, which according to her, had been held with gross violations, namely that the two people who studied his statements are not state-licensed linguists, she said.

The linguistic forensics study was carried out by math teacher Natalya Kryukova and interpreter Aleksandr Tarasov, who also conducted similar linguistic examinations in the cases of shutting down the Memorial Human Rights Center in 2021 and imprisonment of Memorial's co-chairman, Oleg Orlov, in February this year.

With reporting by RBK, OVD-Info, Kommersant, Meduza, Mediazona, and Reuters

Iran, Pakistan Hold First Talks Since Cross-Border Strikes

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (center) walks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right) to inspect a guard of honor in Islamabad on April 22.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (center) walks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right) to inspect a guard of honor in Islamabad on April 22.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on April 22 in Islamabad in their first meeting since their countries exchanged missile strikes in February.

Raisi’s three-day trip to neighboring Pakistan is part of efforts by both countries to mend relations that were strained earlier this year.

Iran and Pakistan share a porous 900-kilometer border where separatists opposed to the governments in Tehran and Pakistan operate.

In February, Iran struck what it described as bases used by Iranian Baluch separatists in Pakistan. Islamabad responded by targeting locations in Iran it said were used by Pakistani Baluch separatists.

The Iranian president was greeted at the airport by Housing Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada before receiving a formal welcome from Sharif.

Authorities have deployed hundreds of additional police and paramilitary forces to ensure security during the visit as Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant violence.

According to a statement released by the premier’s office, Sharif and Raisi discussed a range of issues to promote bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields and vowed to cooperate to fight terrorism.

They are also expected to hold a joint news conference later on April 22.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA said eight cooperation documents will be signed during Raisi’s visit.

The two sides will also discuss a multibillion gas pipeline project, which has been on hold since 2014. The project -- opposed by Washington for what it says is a violation of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program -- was launched in 2013 to supply much-needed Iranian natural gas to energy-starved Pakistan.

Raisi is accompanied by his wife and a high-level delegation. He plans to visit Karachi, the country's biggest city, and Lahore, where he will meet with the Pakistan's recently elected first female chief minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Raisi will travel to Sri Lanka after wrapping up his Pakistan visit.

With reporting by AP

Russian Media Watchdog Blocks Reporters Without Borders' Website

Reporters Without Borders was established in 1985 to defend press freedom and the right to free and reliable information. (file photo)
Reporters Without Borders was established in 1985 to defend press freedom and the right to free and reliable information. (file photo)

Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor said on April 22 that it has "restricted access" to the website of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) group, which monitors the rights of journalists around the world, the NGO Roskomsvoboda reported. Roskomnadzor said the move was made over RSF's "spreading false news about the special military operation," a term Russian officials use to describe Moscow's full-scale ongoing invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022. RSF, headquartered in Paris, was established in 1985 to defend press freedom and the right to free and reliable information. To read the original by Current Time, click here.

Updated

Ukraine Expects War Situation To Worsen From May As EU Considers Aid

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk have both welcomed the approval of the aid package for Ukraine that was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk have both welcomed the approval of the aid package for Ukraine that was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

European Union foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss bolstering the bloc's support for Kyiv as the head of Ukraine's military intelligence warned the situation in the war with Russia could worsen amid intensifying air attacks.

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.

EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet on April 22 to discuss strengthening Ukraine's air defenses as Russia continues to target Ukraine with drones and missiles.

Russia has stepped up its air attacks on energy infrastructure and other targets, putting pressure on the EU to supply more air defenses to Ukraine.

Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine's military intelligence agency, told the BBC that his country faced "a rather difficult situation" on the front line against the Russians from mid-May.

"But it is not catastrophic, and we need to understand that," he added. "Armageddon will not happen, as many people are now saying."

Budanov's comments come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with U.S. broadcaster NBC on April 21 that Russia wants to occupy Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region before May 9, the day Russia celebrates as Victory Day to mark the defeat of Germany in World War II.

The meeting in Luxembourg comes after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a package worth more than $60 billion in Ukrainian aid that will head to the Senate for discussion this week, clearing the way for President Joe Biden to sign it into law.

Western leaders welcomed the approval of the package, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen saying in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that "Ukraine deserves all the support it can get against Russia."

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk thanked House Speaker Mike Johnson, while also noting the holdup in Congress. "Better late than too late. And I hope it is not too late for Ukraine."

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the complicated logistics of getting U.S. assistance to the front line would mean that "Ukrainian forces may suffer additional setbacks" while waiting for it to arrive.

'There Is Hope': Ukrainians Welcome Passage Of U.S. Military Aid
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States, Britain, and France on April 22 of risking a “direct military clash” between nuclear powers by bolstering their support for Ukraine.

Hours before the meeting in Luxembourg, Russia launched seven Shahed-type kamikaze drones at Ukraine, most of which were shot down. Odesa's regional governor, Oleh Kiper, said drones targeted a farm, where they damaged a warehouse and some machinery.

The Shahed drones are cheap and effective unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made by Iran. Tehran insists that it is not supplying Russia with drones to use against Ukraine.

Iran used the same drones on April 14 to target Israel in an unprecedented attack that included more than 300 UAVs and missiles.

During their meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers also agreed to expand the bloc's sanctions on Iran for its attack on Israel, which Tehran says was retaliation for the bombing of its embassy complex in Syria earlier this month. The attack, which Iran blames on Israel, killed seven military officers, including two generals.

Many EU countries have called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to Iranian proxy forces in the Middle East.

With reporting by Reuters and the AP

2 Police Officers Killed In Attack In Russia's North Caucasus

The Interior Ministry in Russia's North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia said on April 22 that unknown attackers opened fire on a police patrol, killing two officers and wounding another one. The two police officers killed in the attack were identified as Lieutenant Murat Kalakhanov and Sergeant Roman Gushchin. The Investigative Committee said it had launched an investigation into "a deadly attack against law enforcement officers and illegal firearms possession." Several Telegram channels reported that during the overnight attack in the city of Karachayevsk, unknown assailants managed to take a pistol, an AK-47, and ammunition from the officers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

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