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Putin Orders Troops Into Ukraine; U.S. Calls Decision A 'Clear Attack On Sovereignty'

A tank drives along a street in Donetsk on February 22 after President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of Russian troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine following his recognition of their independence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops into two separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine in a military escalation that Western leaders have warned could lead to massive consequences for Moscow.

Putin signed the decrees ordering the troop deployment on February 21 after announcing his decision to recognize the independence of the two regions, a move that was swiftly condemned by Western leaders fearful of major conflict on the European continent.

Live Briefing: Ukraine In The Crosshairs

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensives, 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 decrees went into effect immediately.

Putin’s escalatory steps come after he amassed more than 150,000 combat-ready forces on Ukraine's border, triggering months of intense diplomacy by the United States and Europe to deter the Russian leader from invading his smaller neighbor.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Putin’s decision to recognize the regions a “clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and said it “directly contradicts Russia’s claimed commitment to diplomacy.”

Putin's decision triggered another round of crisis calls among Western leaders.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with European counterparts, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the allied response.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he will meet with Blinken in Washington on February 22, seeking to push Washington toward tough sanctions against Moscow.

The White House announced it was imposing sanctions on trade and investment on the two regions and said more measures, including further economic penalties, would be announced on February 22.

However, the White House did not slap any immediate sanctions on Russia. A senior U.S. administration official speaking on background said the White House would study Russia’s troops movements before making such a decision.

Russia had yet to move any of the 150,000 troops surrounding Ukraine into the two regions as of early morning on February 22.

Boundary Question

The separatist leaders claim all of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces as their borders, though they only control parts of them.

Putin did not state the boundaries of the two regions he was recognizing, a critical element that could determine whether the West imposes punishing sanctions on Russia.

The White House has repeatedly said it would slap severe economic penalties on Russia if it further invades Ukraine.

However, the senior U.S. official hinted that a deployment of Russian troops to the separatist-controlled regions might not be considered a further invasion, as Russian military personnel have been operating there for years.

Andrey Klimov, deputy chairman of Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, said Moscow would be recognizing just the areas held by the separatists. Andrey Rudenko, a Russian deputy foreign minister, also told the RIA Novosti news agency that Moscow's recognition refers to the territories that separatists control in the two regions.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on February 22 unanimously voted to approve friendship treaties with the territories. A vote in the upper chamber, the Federation Council, is also expected to take place on February 22.

Russia began to back separatists in eastern Ukraine following the overthrow of Kremlin-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, supplying them with money, weapons, and troops.

The uprising failed to gain wide traction and fighting between the separatists and government forces has since grinded into a low-intensity war that has killed more than 13,200 people over the past eight years.

Ukraine and Russia have signed two agreements, known as the Minsk accords, that lay out a path to a peace settlement but have disagreed on their interpretation.

Russia wants the two regions to have vast autonomy, including veto power over Ukraine’s foreign policy decisions, such as joining NATO, something Kyiv rejects.

After years of little progress on a peace settlement, Putin began in October to mass troops, machinery, and weapons on Ukraine’s border in an attempt to coerce Kyiv and its Western backers to accept its security demands.

In his televised speech announcing the recognition of the two regions, Putin listed a litany of alleged grievances against the leadership in Kyiv, as well as NATO and the West.

Meanwhile, Russia said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was still prepared to hold talks with Blinken.

"Even during the most difficult moments...we say: We are ready for negotiations," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on February 22. "So, our position remains the same. We are ready for a negotiating process."

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. side on the planned meeting.

Lavrov and Blinken were scheduled to meet on February 24 in Geneva to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. U.S. officials said the meeting would only take place if Russia did not invade Ukraine.

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Jailed Mother Of Chechen Opposition Bloggers Hospitalized

Zarema Musayeva in a defendant's cage at a court hearing in, Grozny, Chechnya, on February 2.

Zarema Musayeva, the jailed mother of three self-exiled outspoken Chechen opposition activists, has been hospitalized as her health state has dramatically worsened since her arrest.

Abubakar Yangulbayev, who along with his brothers, Ibragim and Baisangur, now lives abroad, said on June 5 that his mother’s diabetes has progressed, her eyesight has worsened, and she has started having pains in her back, since being detained after Chechen police snatched her in January last year from her apartment in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, some 1,800 kilometers (1,080 miles) from Chechnya.

She has since been transferred to Chechnya, where she is currently on trial on charges of fraud and the assault of a law enforcement officer. Critics insist that the charges are politically motivated.

Abubakar Yangulbayev added that his mother is unable to walk, with jail guards now taking her for daily one-hour walks in a wheelchair.

Abubakar and Ibragim have been known for their online criticism of Kremlin-backed Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov. Musayeva's youngest son, Baisangur, was added to Russia's federal wanted list on unspecified charges last month.

In November, Russian authorities added him to the list of extremists and terrorists without explanation.

All three brothers are currently out of Russia. The activists' father, retired federal judge Saidi Yangulbayev, and a sister also fled Russia following threats.

Kadyrov, other Chechen officials, and a member of the Russian Duma from Chechnya have publicly vowed to kill all members of the Yangulbayev family, calling them "terrorists."

Journalists, rights activists, and other Russians have urged the government to punish those who issued the threats.

Ibragim and Abubakar Yangulbayev say they faced years of pressure from Chechen authorities over their criticism of Kadyrov and the rights situation in Chechnya.

Russian and international human rights groups have for years accused Kadyrov of overseeing grave human rights abuses, including abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the persecution of the LGBT community.

Kremlin critics say Putin has turned a blind eye to the abuses because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya.

Kremlin Says U.S. Statement On Nuclear Arms Control Is 'Positive'

White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said on June 2 that the United States would abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until it expired in 2026 if Russia did the same. (file photo)

The Kremlin said on June 5 that a statement by U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan calling for bilateral arms control discussions was "positive", and that Russia remained open for dialogue. Sullivan said on June 2 that the United States would abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms reduction pact between the two Cold War rivals, until it expired in 2026 if Russia did the same. President Vladimir Putin suspended Moscow's participation in the treaty in February.

Poland Receives Draft EU Regulation Extending Ban On Ukrainian Food Imports

A dump track unloads grain in a granary in Ukraine. (file photo)

Poland's agriculture minister, Robert Telus, says he has received a draft regulation from the European Commission extending a ban on Ukrainian grain imports until September 15. The EU on May 2 set restrictions until June 5 on imports of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seed to ease the excess supply of the grains in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Those countries had complained that cheaper Ukrainian grain was making domestic production unprofitable and had asked the EU to extend the ban. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Belgium Investigating Whether Its Weapons Were Used In Russia

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (file photo)

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on June 5 that his government will ask Ukraine for clarification on reports that rifles made in Belgium had been used by pro-Ukrainian forces to fight Russian troops inside Russia's western border. The Washington Post reported on June 3 that anti-Kremlin fighters who launched a cross-border attack from Ukraine into the Russian Belgorod region last month used tactical vehicles originally given to Ukraine by the United States and Poland and carried rifles made in Belgium and the Czech Republic. De Croo declined to comment on possible consequences if the reports were confirmed. (Reuters)

To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Papal Peace Envoy To Visit Kyiv On June 5-6, Vatican Says

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi (file photo)

Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, tasked by Pope Francis to carry out a peace mission to try to help end the war in Ukraine, will visit Kyiv on June 5-6, the Vatican said in a statement. "This is an initiative whose main purpose is to listen in-depth to the Ukrainian authorities on the possible ways to reach a just peace and support gestures of humanity that may help ease tensions," it said. Since the war started in February 2022, Francis and the Vatican have tried to offer themselves as a possible peace brokers, but to date, their efforts have not been successful. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Russia's Baltic Fleet Starts Naval Drills In Baltic Sea

Around 3,500 soldiers and up to 40 ships and boats will take part in the drills. (file photo)

Russia's Baltic Fleet started naval exercises in the Baltic Sea on June 5 the Russian military's press service said. Around 3,500 soldiers and up to 40 ships and boats will take part in the drills, which are scheduled to last until June 15, the military said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Navy Says Iranian Fast-Attack Boats 'Harassed' Ship In Strait Of Hormuz

The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul was one of two Western vessels that responded to the incident. (file photo)

The U.S. Navy said on June 5 that its sailors and the U.K. Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz after Iran's Revolutionary Guards “harassed” it. Three fast-attack vessels with armed troops aboard approached the merchant ship at a close distance in the afternoon on June 4, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy's frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with the Lancaster launching a helicopter. To read the original story by AP, click here.


Russia Says It Thwarted 'Large-Scale' Ukrainian Offensive; Kyiv Calls Claim 'Fake'

A man walks on the site of a municipal market destroyed by a Russian military strike in the border town of Vovchansk on Junje 4.

Russia says its forces have repelled a multipronged "large-scale" Ukrainian offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, but Kyiv rejected the report, calling it an attempt at disinformation while denying it had launched its long-awaited counterattack to reclaim territory lost since Moscow invaded in February 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 counteroffensives, 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 claim on June 5, which came after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told The Wall Street Journal two days earlier that Ukrainian forces were ready for the counteroffensive, could not be independently verified and was rejected by the Ukrainian military.

"In order to demoralize Ukrainians and mislead the public, including their own, Russian propagandists are spreading false information about a counteroffensive, its directions, and the losses of the Ukrainian Army, even though there is no counterattack," the military said in a statement.

It said that Russia used old videos and pictures "as well as other fake materials" in its report about the alleged counteroffensive, in which Russian officials said Ukraine suffered heavy losses.

Earlier on June 5, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video statement saying that Ukrainian forces attacked five points in Donetsk using six mechanized and two tank battalions but their action "had no success."

The statement said that the chief of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, personally supervised the Russian defense.

General Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said on June 5 that Ukrainian forces kept advancing near Bakhmut, the city that has been at the epicenter of the monthslong battle for control of Ukraine's Donetsk region. But he made no mention of a counteroffensive.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said fresh fighting took place in eastern and southern Ukraine over the past 24 hours as more incursions from Ukraine into Russia's region of Belgorod were reported.

For its part, the Ukrainian military said on June 5 that its forces had detected and repelled an attempt by Russia to infiltrate a "sabotage and reconnaissance" group in the eastern Kharkiv region.

"On the Siverskiy and Slobozhanskiy directions over the past day, the enemy made an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the state border of Ukraine in the area of the Zelene settlement of the Kharkiv region," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported in a message early on June 5.

The Kharkiv Region borders Russia's Belgorod region, where fighting was reported repeatedly in recent days.

For months, Ukrainian officials have spoken about preparing a counteroffensive to drive Russian forces back.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on June 3 that his country was ready to launch the action, saying "I don't know how long it will take," and admitting that it could come at a heavy cost.

Western assessments have said the offensive will be larger and more complicated than any other effort Ukraine has conducted since the launch of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.

Ukraine’s newest units, plus all of its regular and irregular units, will go into their offensive with more than $32 billion in weapons and security assistance from U.S. arsenals, plus billions more from European allies.

Russia, meanwhile, has been digging in and expanding its defensive lines -- minefields, trenches, anti-tank “dragon’s teeth” -- across the roughly 1,200-kilometer front that stretches from Ukraine’s Luhansk region, in the Donbas, southwest to the mouth of the Dnieper River and its eastern banks in the Kherson region.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Russia Says It Stopped An Attack By 'Saboteurs' From Ukraine In Belgorod Region

A still image from a drone footage released by the Free Russia Legion shows what appears to be an explosion near the Novaya Tavolzhanka settlement in Russia's Belgorod region on June 1.

The Russian Ministry of Defense says its forces managed to repel an attempt by a "sabotage and reconnaissance group of Ukrainian terrorists" to enter the settlement of Novaya Tavolzhanka in Russia's Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine. "An artillery strike was carried out on the enemy. The enemy was dispersed and retreated," the ministry said in a statement on June 4. Earlier, fresh skirmishes were reported on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border. Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov acknowledged on June 4 that fighting was taking place in his region. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukraine Says It Thwarted Infiltration Attempt By Russia In Kharkiv Region

A Ukrainian soldier on duty in the Kharkiv region, where fighting has been reported in recent days. (file photo)

The Ukrainian military said its forces had detected and repelled an attempt by Russia to infiltrate a "sabotage and reconnaissance" group in Ukraine's Kharkiv region. "On the Siverskiy and Slobozhanskiy directions over the past day, the enemy made an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the state border of Ukraine in the area of the Zelene settlement of the Kharkiv region," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported in a message early on June 5. The Kharkiv region borders Russia's Belgorod region, where fighting was reported repeatedly in recent days. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Official: Almost 80 Schoolgirls Poisoned, Hospitalized In Northern Afghanistan

Afghan schoolgirls attend an open-air primary school in Khogyani district of Nangarhar Province.

Nearly 80 girls were poisoned and hospitalized in two separate attacks at their primary schools in Sar-e Pul Province in northern Afghanistan, a local education official said on June 4. It is thought to be the first time this kind of assault has happened since the Taliban swept to power in August 2021 and began their crackdown on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls. Girls are banned from education beyond sixth grade. The education official said the person who orchestrated the poisoning had a personal grudge but did not elaborate. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Popular Singer Zemfira Spotted In Russian Player's Box At French Open

Zemfiraperforms at the 2018 Afisha Picnic music festival in Moscow.

Popular Russian singer Zemfira, who left the country because of her opposition to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, was spotted at the French Open on June 4 sitting in the player's box of her compatriot Daria Kasaktina. Zemfira was placed on a Russian Justice Ministry list of "foreign agents" in February on the grounds that she supported Ukraine and criticized the invasion, which Russia calls a "special military operation." An ethnic Volga Tatar born in the central Russian region of Bashkortostan, Zemfira began performing in 1998 and gained popularity in Russia and other ex-Soviet states.

German Jailed In Iran's Life 'In Danger,' Fellow Prisoner Says

Nahid Taghavi was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020.

The life of a German-Iranian detained in Iran is in danger and she is in such pain she can barely move, a fellow prisoner who is a prominent rights activist said on June 4. Nahid Taghavi, 68, was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in jail in August 2021 after being arrested at her Tehran apartment in October 2020, and is being held in solitary confinement at Tehran's Evin prison. "The life of Nahid Taghavi, a political prisoner, is in danger," her fellow inmate, the prize-winning campaigner Narges Mohammadi, wrote on an Instagram account run by family in France.

No Breakthrough In NATO-Turkey Talks Over Sweden After Stoltenberg, Erdogan Meet

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (left) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February in Ankara.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made no breakthrough on June 4 in talks about Sweden's membership in the military alliance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with officials from the two countries to meet on June 12 to try to bridge their differences. NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time U.S. President Joe Biden and other allied leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the move. All 31 member countries must ratify a candidate's accession protocol for it to join the transatlantic alliance. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Rublev's Trinity Icon Transferred To Russian Cathedral Despite Protests Of Museum Community

Created by the Russian painter in the early 15th century, it has been at the Tretyakov since the 1920s.

Russia's most famous icon -- the Trinity by Andrei Rublev -- was moved from the Tretyakov Gallery Arts Museum to Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral despite protests by the museum community. The icon will be in the cathedral for a service starting on June 4, the Culture Ministry said. Museum officials and scientists opposed the transfer of the icon, saying the historic artifact will be damaged by the change in microclimate and vibrations during the transfer. Created by the Russian painter in the early 15th century, it has been at the Tretyakov since the 1920s. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Pakistani Ex-PM Openly Accuses Military Of Trying To Destroy His Party

Imran Khan gestures as he speaks to the media at his residence in Lahore. (file photo)

Pakistan's embattled former Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused the powerful military and its intelligence agency of openly trying to destroy his political party, saying he had "no doubt" he would be tried in a military court and thrown in jail. Khan has hinted previously at the military's hand in a crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) party but his comments in an interview at his Lahore home on June 3 were the most blunt yet. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Ukrainian Minister In 'Disbelief' At Closed Kyiv Bomb Shelters

A dog stands at the entrance to a bomb shelter in eastern Ukraine.

A senior Ukrainian government official expressed "disbelief" on June 4, warning that nearly half of Kyiv's bomb shelters inspected during an initial audit were closed or unfit for use. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy ordered an inspection of all Ukrainian shelters on June 2, a day after three people were killed in Kyiv when they were unable to access one during a Russian air strike. Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine's minister of strategic industries, said that out of 1,078 shelters examined on the first day, 359 were unprepared and another 122 locked, while 597 were found to be usable.

Russian Governor Urges Residents Of Village Near Ukraine To 'Temporarily' Evacuate Amid Uptick In Shelling

A view shows destroyed vehicles following what was said to be Ukrainian shelling in the town of Shebekino in the Belgorod region in an image released on May 31.

Russian authorities on June 4 called on residents of an area on the Ukrainian border to leave their homes "temporarily." The town of Shebekino in the western Belgorod region has been hit by shelling, with casualties reported. In a Telegram post on June 4, regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov urged residents to cooperate with the authorities and leave the area. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Drone Shot Down In Crimea's Dzhankoy, Moscow-Installed Official Says

A drone was shot down in Dzhankoy in Crimea, a Russian-installed official in the region that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 said on June 4. "There is damage to windows in several houses in a residential district" from the overnight incident, Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser in the Moscow-installed administration of Crimea, posted on the Telegram messaging app. "All services are working. Official information -- in the morning," he said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.


Dozens Of Supporters Detained As Kremlin Foe Navalny Turns 47 In Prison

Aleksei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link during a court hearing in Moscow in April.

Aleksei Navalny, the Kremlin's biggest foe and Russia's most prominent political prisoner, marks his 47th birthday on June 4 in solitary confinement in prison, as supporters held rallies and individual protests to highlight his plight, leading to dozens of arrests and detentions.

Navalny is serving sentences that add up to 11 1/2 years for violating the terms of a parole, contempt of court, and embezzlement through fraud that he and his supporters have repeatedly rejected as politically motivated and designed to silence him.

He is currently in a punitive solitary confinement at a prison in the Vladimir region east of Moscow.

"As always, on my birthday, I want to thank all the people I've met in my life. The good ones for having helped and still helping me. The bad ones for the fact that my experience with them has taught me something. Thanks to my family for always being there for me!" Navalny wrote on Twitter.

"But the biggest thank you and biggest salute I want to give today goes to all political prisoners in Russia, Belarus, and other countries. Most of them ...have it much harder than me. I think about them all the time. Their resilience inspires me every day," he added.

Risking their own detention amid President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on any dissent, supporters held individual pickets in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere in the country.

A heavy security presence was seen in central Moscow, with National Guard troops stationed near Pushkin Square.

According to OVD-Info, an independent human rights defense and media group, several people were detained in the capital for holding signs in support of the activist, including a woman identified as Yekaterina Lubyanaya, who was holding a balloon with "Happy birthday!" written on it.

OVD-Info said that more than 100 people had been detained in 23 cities at rallies and individual pickets by late on June 4. At least four detainees were minors and one journalist was held, it said, adding that some were eventually released from custody.

Demonstrations were also reported in several European cities and in Japan and Australia.

A demonstration in support of Aleksei Navalny in St. Petersburg is stopped by police on June 4.
A demonstration in support of Aleksei Navalny in St. Petersburg is stopped by police on June 4.

Navalny has been in prison since February 2021 following his arrest one month earlier after he returned from Germany, where he was treated for a near-fatal poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin, which has denied any involvement.

He and his team have said the charges against him are trumped up for his efforts to expose corruption in the Russian government.

WATCH: Russia's most famous political prisoner spends most of his time in a 2.5-by-3-meter isolation cell. Supporters of Aleksei Navalny have created a traveling exhibition complete with a mock-up of the cell.

In Jail With Navalny: Mock-Up Shows Conditions In Russian Prison
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A Moscow court has set a June 6 date for a hearing for a new trial for Navalny on a charge of extremism, which could keep him in prison for 30 years. He also said an investigator told him that he would also face a separate military court trial on terrorism charges that potentially carry a life sentence.

On June 2, Navalny released excerpts of his correspondence with prison administrators detailing sarcastic demands for outlandish things such as a bottle of moonshine and a pet kangaroo.

Prison officials denied all of his requests, according to the correspondence, often in stilted, bureaucratic Russian.

"When you are sitting in a punishment isolation cell and have little entertainment, you can have fun with correspondence with the administration," Navalny said on Twitter in a series of tweets posted on June 2, apparently by his team.

Among the items he requested was a megaphone to be given to the prisoner in a nearby cell "so he can yell even louder." Another was a request for an inmate who "killed a man with his bare hands" to be awarded with the highest rank in karate.

"The question of awarding eastern martial-arts qualifications is not handled by the administration," the prison wrote back on April 28.

Prison officials also turned down requests for moonshine, tobacco for rolling cigarettes, a balalaika, and the kangaroo.

In response to his wish for a pet kangaroo, the prison wrote: "The animal identified in your request relates to the double-crested marsupial.... Your request is left without satisfaction."

In mock outrage over the refusal, Navalny said he would continue to fight for his "inalienable right to own a kangaroo." The politician said inmates can have a pet if the prison administration allows it.

With reporting by Current Time, Reuters, and AP

Taliban Claims Attack In Northwest Pakistan, Two Soldiers Killed

The army said in a statement that militants opened fire on a security checkpoint in the evening on June 3. (illustrative photo)

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for an attack in northwestern Pakistan that left two soldiers and two militants dead. The army said in a statement that militants opened fire on a security checkpoint in the evening on June 3 in the Jani Khel area of Bannu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, leading to a shoot-out with Pakistani troops. A search operation was under way to track the militants behind the attack. To read the original story by AP, click here.


New Skirmishes Break Out Along Ukrainian Border As Anti-Kremlin Forces Capture Russian Soldiers

Drone footage released by the Free Russia Legion shows what they claim is the destruction of Russian military targets near Novaya Tavolzhanka in the Belgorod region, Russia, in an image released on June 1.

Fresh battles broke out on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border on June 4, as anti-Kremlin fighters said they had captured several Russian soldiers and turned them over to Kyiv after the governor of the Belgorod region failed to show up for negotiations on a prisoner swap.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod, acknowledged fighting was taking place in his region, which borders Ukraine, and that some soldiers had been taken prisoner by the pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters.

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 counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

He earlier vowed to meet with the fighters near the border and said he would "guarantee [their] security" to discuss a swap. But the anti-Kremlin fighters said the governor never arrived and that they were turning over their captives to the Ukrainian government.

The developments could not immediately be independently verified.

The self-styled Russian Volunteer Corps released a statement on Telegram making the claims and showed a video of what appeared to be 10-12 Russian soldiers being held captive, including two who were on hospital beds.

The military action inside Russia comes two weeks after the corps and another group, the Free Russia Legion, made a stunning cross-border incursion, attacking Russian forces in towns and villages in the Belgorod region. Ukraine has denied it is behind the attacks.

Gladkov acknowledged the new fighting in the region, saying that "there is combat" in the border town of Novaya Tavolzhanka. Gladkov blamed "sabotage groups."

"I hope they will all be destroyed," he said. He did not immediately comment on the report stating that he failed to show at a negotiation site.

Earlier, Ukrainian officials said a 2-year-old child had been killed in a Russian air strike on the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, while air defenses in the capital of Kyiv repelled a wave of Russian drones and missiles.

The Russian strike late on June 3 on a residential district of Dnipro also left 22 people injured -- including five children -- according to Serhiy Lysak, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration.

In a post on Telegram, Lysak said the attack damaged a pair of two-story buildings, as well as 10 homes, a shop, and a gas pipeline.

Russian air strikes over Ukraine have increased in recent weeks amid expectations that Ukrainian military forces will soon launch a much-anticipated counteroffensive to reclaim territory lost since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in published remarks on June 3 that Ukrainian forces were ready for the counteroffensive.

He later condemned Russia for the air strike on Dnipro.

"Once again, Russia proves it is a terrorist state. The Russians will bear responsibility for everything committed against our state and people,” Zelenskiy said in a post late on June 3 on Facebook.

Zelenskiy said on June 4 that Russia's war, now in its 16th month, had killed at least 500 Ukrainian children.

He said in a statement that "Russian weapons and hatred, which continue to take and destroy the lives of Ukrainian children every day," killed the hundreds who had perished since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine started on February 24, 2022.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told local television that four of six cruise missiles had been shot down by air defenses but that two had struck an "operational airfield" near the central city of Kropyvnytskiy.

Meanwhile, the General Staff said in its daily report on June 4 that Russian invading forces had carried out two unsuccessful operations around Bakhmut and launched several air strikes and artillery shelling on nearby villages.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia's mercenary Wagner Group, said on June 3 that 99 percent of his fighters had left Bakhmut after their monthslong assault in the war's longest and bloodiest battle.

Ukraine said late last month that fighting had eased in the area, but General Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of the ground forces, said on June 3 that Ukrainian forces continued their fight there.

"The enemy continues to suffer significant losses in the Bakhmut direction," Syrskiy said on Telegram after what he said was a visit to troops around Bakhmut. "Defense forces continue to fight. We will win."

Zelenskiy told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on June 3 that Ukrainian forces were ready to launch their counteroffensive, cautioning it could take some time and be costly.

"We strongly believe that we will succeed," Zelenskiy said. "I don’t know how long it will take. To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready," he added.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian Army had not received "all the weapons it hoped for, but we can't wait any longer."

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Thousands Protest In Serbia, Accusing Government Of Fostering Violence

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the center of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on June 3 for the fifth anti-government protest in recent weeks.

The protests were sparked by two mass shootings in early May that left 18 people dead and several wounded. Half of those killed were students at a Belgrade elementary school. That shooting was carried out by a 13-year-old student.

Protesters, marching under the slogan "Serbia against violence," accuse the government of fanning a culture of violence, as well as an atmosphere of hopelessness and division, in the country through state media outlets.

"The fact that you young people have taken to the streets with a clear message that you will no longer live in this diseased society gives hope that maybe we will lift ourselves up," popular actor Dragan Bjelogrlic told the rally.

Serbian Protesters Urge President To Resign
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They have demanded the revocation of the broadcasting licenses of television and radio outlets that promote violence, as well as the closure of government newspapers that have urged violence against political dissidents. They have called for the resignations of all the members of the regulatory agency that oversees broadcast media.

Protesters have also demanded the resignations of the interior minister, Bratislav Gasic, and the head of the national intelligence agency, Aleksandar Vulin.

The rally began outside the Serbian parliament building, after which protesters marched to the president's office. Organizers urged demonstrators to write messages to President Aleksandar Vucic, which were to be collected and presented to him.

Protesters also laid flowers outside the presidential office complex.

Opposition critics have accused Vucic, 53, of drifting toward authoritarianism for years, using harsh measures to fragment the opposition and exercising firm control over state media.

Vucic has dismissed the protests as a "publicity stunt" and has alleged without proof that they have been orchestrated by "foreign powers."

After the shootings, the government boosted the police presence in schools and urged the public to hand over weapons.

Education Minister Branko Ruzic later resigned.

Kyiv Protests To Hungary Over Map Missing Crimea

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on June 3 protested to the government of Hungary over an official video that used a map of Ukraine that did not include the Russian-occupied region of Crimea. The complaint called the incident a "provocation" and demanded that Hungary fulfill its commitment as a member of the UN, the European Union, and NATO to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. Hungary, which published the video on May 30, has not responded to Kyiv's protest. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Three Europeans Return Home After Release By Iran In Prisoner Swap

Iranian opposition activists protest with a poster depicting Iranian official Asadollah Assadi in Brussels in October 2018.

Three Europeans returned home on June 3, a day after being released by Iran in a prisoner swap, and Tehran said there was no reason for Europeans to be arrested if they were not "exploited" by foreign security services. The three men -- two with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one Dane -- were released on June 2 by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a swap in which Iran freed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a Belgian government spokesperson said. Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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