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Russian Military Official Shifts Rhetoric, Says Army Now Focusing On 'Liberation' Of Eastern Ukrainian Regions

RUSSIA -- Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff speaks to the media in Moscow, July 29, 2019

Russia's Defense Ministry has indicated that it has scaled back its goals in Ukraine, announcing on March 25 that the first phase of its military operation was complete and it would now focus on two eastern regions claimed by Russia-backed separatists.

"The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished," said Sergei Rudskoi, the deputy chief of the Russian armed forces' General Staff.

"The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which...makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of the Donbas."

Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine

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Rudskoi provided the assessment in comments to reporters in Moscow as the war entered its second month.

He claimed that the initial goal of what Moscow calls a "military operation in Ukraine" was to take over Ukraine's eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, commonly known as the Donbas, parts of which came under Russia-backed separatists' control after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Rudskoi said there had been two variants for Russian military operations prior to the start of the war in Ukraine.

The first was to limit the operation to the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk, he said. But in that case, Ukraine would be able to constantly send additional troops to the Donbas, so Rudskoi said the second variant envisioning “operations on the whole territory of Ukraine with implementation of measures of demilitarization and denazification had been chosen."

Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have said since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 that the goal of the wide-scale attack was to demilitarize and "denazify" Ukraine and topple its democratically elected government.

Despite all attempts to take over Ukraine's major cities, including the capital, Kyiv, Russian armed forces have been unable to do so during one month of intensive fighting. Battlelines near Kyiv have remained frozen for weeks, with two main Russian armored columns stuck northwest and east of the capital.

Days before launching the attack against Ukraine, Russia recognized separatist-controlled districts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that Moscow and the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, saying that the separatists' control must be extended throughout the two regions' entire territories.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, AFP, and Reuters

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Two New York Lawyers Sentenced For Helping Asylum Seekers From Former Soviet Union Falsify Affidavits

Arthur Arcadian and is wife, Ilona Dzhamgarova, were sentenced by the Court of the Southern District in New York on May 31. (file photo)

Two New York lawyers, husband and wife Arthur Arcadian and Ilona Dzhamgarova, have been sentenced to six months and two years in prison, respectively, for assisting asylum seekers, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to prepare false affidavits and coaching their clients to lie under oath. The U.S. Attorney's Office said on May 31 that the couple's Dzhamgarova Firm "advised certain of its clients regarding the manner in which they were most likely to obtain asylum in this country, fully understanding that those clients did not legitimately qualify for asylum." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Mudslide Kills Three, Including Two Children, In Tajikistan's East

A massive mudslide killed three people, including two children, in the village of Qushai in eastern Tajikistan in the early hours of June 1. Officials of the Lakhsh district identified the victims as 38-year-old woman, her 15-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old son. Mountains cover 93 percent of the Central Asian nation's territory, and mudslides and avalanches kill dozens of people every year. Since January, natural disasters have killed more than 20 people in the country. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

U.S. To Open Diplomatic Station In Arctic Norway

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The United States will open its northernmost diplomatic station in the Norwegian Arctic town of Tromsoe, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 1 at a time when cooperation among the Arctic nations has been hit by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The region is becoming strategically more important as a shrinking ice cap opens up new sea lanes and attracts other nations seeking its largely untapped natural resources. Blinken's announcement comes three weeks after Norway took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Russia. The Arctic Council is a forum that was created in 1996 to discuss issues affecting the polar region. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

President Of Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan's Party Arrested In Lahore

President of Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaf Pervez Elahi (file photo)

The president of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's party was arrested on June 1 in the eastern city of Lahore on charges of corruption, a government official said. Pakistan is beset by political turmoil as Khan's party has faced a countrywide crackdown since his own arrest on May 9 for suspected graft sparked widespread protests that saw mobs ransacking state installations, including military assets. Pervez Elahi, the president of Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf party, joins a long list of key party leaders arrested in the security swoop to halt turmoil that has threatened to worsen instability in a country reeling from a crippling financial crisis. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Moscow Court Extends Pretrial Detention Of Suspect From Cafe Bombing That Killed War Blogger

Darya Trepova attends a court hearing in Moscow in April.

MOSCOW -- A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Darya Trepova, the woman suspected in the assassination of a prominent Russian war blogger at a St. Petersburg cafe in early April.

The Basmanny district court in the Russian capital ruled on June 1 that Trepova must stay in pretrial detention until at least September 3.

The 26-year-old Trepova was arrested on a charge of committing "a terrorist act with an organized group that caused intentional death" shortly after a blast in St. Petersburg on April 2 killed Vladlen Tatarsky, the pen name of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Fomin. Dozens of others were wounded in the attack.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said on June 1 that an arrest warrant was issued for the Kyiv-based Russian journalist Roman Popkov on suspicion of recruiting Trepova to carry out the assassination of Tatarsky.

The Investigative Committee also said Popkov was added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list.

Last week, Popkov was added to the registry of terrorists and extremists.

Tatarsky was known for his support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and support for Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

Investigators say Trepova was working on the instruction of people representing Ukraine, which Moscow invaded in February 2022, sparking a war that has killed thousands.

Russian media have said that Tatarsky was meeting with attendees when a woman presented him with a box containing a small bust of him that apparently exploded.

Following her detention, Russia's Interior Ministry posted a video of Trepova, who may have been speaking under duress, telling an interrogator that she "brought the statuette there that exploded." When asked who had given her the bust, she replied that she would answer the question "later."

Tatarsky's death marked the second assassination of a prominent advocate of Russia's war against Ukraine. In August, nationalist TV commentator Darya Dugina was killed in a car bombing near Moscow.

Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the death of Dugina, whose father is well-known Russian war supporter and ideologue Aleksandr Dugin.

Kyiv denied involvement in Dugina's death.

With reporting by RIA Novosti, Interfax, and TASS

Watchdog Says Iran Executed At Least 142 People In May, Calls For International Pressure

Iran Human Rights (IHR) says at least 142 people were executed in Iran in May, the highest monthly total in eight years, amid a brutal crackdown on dissent that the Norway-based watchdog says is aimed at spreading "societal fear."

The group added in a statement released on June 1 that so far this year, the death penalty has been administered at least 307 times, a 76 percent rise compared with the same period last year.

"The purpose of the Islamic republic’s intensification of arbitrary executions is to spread societal fear to prevent protests and prolong its rule," IHR DIrector Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said in the statement.

Amid a wave of unrest -- which has posed the biggest threat to the country's leadership since the Islamic revolution in 1979 -- sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for an alleged infraction of the country's mandatory-head-scarf law, officials have launched a brutal crackdown.

Iran's judiciary, at the urging of senior leaders, has taken a hard-line stance against demonstrators, executing at least seven protesters, including three on May 19. Several others are currently waiting on death row for their sentences to be carried out.

But IHR said the judiciary is using the death penalty in many areas, especially with regard to people convicted of drugs charges, 180 of whom were executed in the first five months of the year.

The wave of executions has sparked outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Officials have staunchly defended the use of the death penalty, with Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the head of the judiciary of the Islamic republic, saying on May 30 that those who, in his view, "should be executed" will have their sentences "executed."

"If the international community doesn’t show a stronger reaction to the current wave of executions, hundreds more will fall victims to their killing machine in the coming months," IHR's Amiry-Moghaddam said.

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

Russian Security Service Claims Thousands Of Diplomats' iPhones Hacked; Moscow-Based Kaspersky Also Hit

Apple stopped direct sales of iPhones in Russia last year over the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, but legalized import programs still exist to bring the phones into the country. (file photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claims thousands of iPhones belonging to the country's diplomats have suffered a massive hacking attack.

The FSB said in a statement on June 1 that hackers allegedly targeted the iPhones of diplomats working at Russian embassies and consulates in countries that are members of NATO, former Soviet republics, as well as in China, Israel, and Syria.

The statement did not give any details or evidence of the alleged cyberattack, just saying that an "unknown" app that targets vulnerable parts of the iOS operational system was used by the hackers.

"The information obtained by Russian special services indicates close cooperation between the U.S. company Apple with the national security community, namely with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), and confirms that the declared policy of providing confidentiality for the personal data of the users of Apple devices does not correspond to the reality," the FSB statement said, without giving any information to back up the allegation.

The FSB statement was issued a few hours before the Moscow-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab said an undisclosed number of its employees' iPhones were hacked using sophisticated malware.

Kaspersky said the "extremely complex, professionally targeted cyberattack" delivered an invisible message that exploited vulnerabilities in the iOS operating system and that information from the phone was then transmitted to remote servers. Kaspersky said the hacking campaign targeted the company's "top and middle-management."

Kaspersky also issued a technical report saying it noticed "suspicious activity that originated from several iOS-based phones" while monitoring traffic on its own corporate Wi-Fi network. The report, which outlined how it said the malicious software worked, describes how the company created off-line backups to inspect the iPhones, and said first traces of the hack date back to 2019 and it is ongoing.

Apple and the U.S. National Security Agency have yet to comment on the FSB statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the FSB's statement "deserves attention," though "we do not have the authority" to restrict the usage of iPhones by officials.

Peskov added that while some of Kremlin officials use iPhones, others have also started replacing iPhones with other brands.

Russian media reported in March that some Russian officials allegedly were told to ditch their iPhones over security fears.

Apple and the NSA have previously clashed over securing a so-called back door to allow access to user data. The company has strenuously refused.

In 2021, a mass break-in to Apple products via the Pegasus spying program created by an Israeli company, the NSO Group, was registered. The program was used by intelligence agencies of other countries.

Apple has sued the NSO Group.

Apple stopped direct sales of iPhones in Russia last year over the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. However, legalized import programs still exist to bring the phones into the country and sell them without the company's permission.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and Reuters

Belarusian Activist Sentenced To More Than Four Years In Prison For Caricatures

Ihar Shumilau was charged with insulting and libeling Alyaksandr Lukashenka and several top officials by posting online caricatures.

A court in Belarus's western city of Baranavichy has sentenced activist Ihar Shumilau to 4 1/2 years in prison for posting online caricatures of several officials, including the country’s authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights group said on June 1 that the Baranavichy City Court sentenced Shumilau, who lost a leg in a traffic accident 10 years ago and has an 11-year-old son, on May 30 after finding him guilty of insulting and libeling Lukashenka and several top officials.

Shumilau was initially detained in late February and sentenced to 15 days in jail on a charge of "distributing extremist materials."

He was not released after he served his term and instead immediately sent to pretrial detention on the new charges that he was found guilty of and sentenced for on May 30.

Vyasna also said on June 1 that the central district court in Minsk on May 30 handed a two-year parole-like sentence to children's author Yana Tsegla.

Tsegla was found guilty of the "organization and preparation of actions that blatantly disrupt social order," a charge many Belarusians have faced for protesting against Lukashenka after he claimed victory in a 2020 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged.

Hundreds of people have been handed prison terms in Belarus following the unprecedented anti-Lukashenka rallies sparked by the election results.

Thousands of others have been detained, and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

The 68-year-old Lukashenka has leaned heavily on Russian support amid Western sanctions while punishing the opposition and arresting or forcing many of its leaders out of the country.

Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition, led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.

Group Using Forged Schengen Visas For Trips To Europe Uncovered In Kyrgyzstan

The group was allegedly involved in organizing illegal travel to European countries by using forged Schengen visas. (illustrative photo)

Kyrgyzstan's State Committee of National Security (UKMK) said on June 1 that a group allegedly involved in organizing illegal travel to European countries via Kyrgyzstan by using forged Schengen visas has been uncovered. "More than 40 foreign nationals who became victims of the activities of the organizers of the illegal migration via Kyrgyzstan have been identified," the UKMK said, without giving any other details. It remains unclear if the alleged perpetrators were apprehended. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Insulting Former Kazakh President Nazarbaev Set To Be Decriminalized

A monument to former President Nursultan Nazerbaev lies demolished amid mass protests in Taldykurgan, Kazakhstan, on January 5, 2022.

ASTANA -- Lawmakers in Kazakhstan are poised to scrap an article in the Criminal Code that envisions prosecution for insulting former President Nursultan Nazarbaev as President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev continues to distance himself from his predecessor.

Kazakh lawmaker Snezhanna Imasheva said on June 1 that Criminal Code Article 373, according to which the public insulting or any other encroachment of the "honor and dignity" of the first president of Kazakhstan, can be punishable by up to five years in prison, will be canceled. The Justice Ministry later confirmed Imasheva's statement.

Toqaev has made a series of moves since January 2022 to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019.

Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of "elbasy."

The announcement on deleting Article 373 comes more than four months after Kazakh lawmakers annulled the Law on the First President -- the Leader of the Nation (Elbasy).

Although the law was canceled, Nazarbaev himself continues to have immunity from prosecution in accordance with the law on presidents.

Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression felt during his reign.

Those feelings came to a head in January last year when unprecedented antigovernment nationwide protests were sparked by a fuel price hike.

The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich nation's wealth.

Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges, of whom some were handed prison terms.

European Council President Voices Hope On Normalization Of Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations

European Council President Charles Michel (center) hosts talks between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (left) and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Brussels on May 14.

European Council President Charles Michel said he will have a "very important meeting" on June 1 with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on the sidelines of the European Political Community summit in Moldova. "I had the opportunity to talk with the two leaders a few weeks ago in Brussels. We have made some progress and we hope to confirm today the political will to normalize relations between the two countries," Michel said. Azerbaijan's ambassador to France suggested last week that Baku and Yerevan could sign a peace agreement during the summit regarding their decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Memorial Rights Group Branch In Yekaterinburg Fined For 'Discrediting' Russian Armed Forces

Supporters place flowers and candles at the Solevetsky Stone in St. Petersburg after Russia closed the Memorial International group on the basis of the "foreign agents" law in December 2021.

A court in Russia's Urals city of Yekaterinburg on June 1 fined a local branch of the Memorial human rights group 300,000 rubles ($3,700) for allegedly discrediting Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The charge stemmed from the group's placing of materials online that were critical of the war in February as the group marked the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion. Memorial branch chief Aleksei Mosin said the court ruling will be appealed. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Hackers Release Iranian Documents Revealing New Details Of Azerbaijani Embassy Attack

People gather around the coffin of Orkhan Askerov, a security guard at Azerbaijan's embassy in Iran who was shot dead by a gunman in an attack, in Baku on January 30.

A hacking group has released a batch of what it claims are classified Iranian government documents, some of which revealed new details of an attack early this year on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran.

The hackers, known as Uprising Until Overthrow and affiliated with the exiled opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), posted some of the documents on the Telegram messaging app on May 30. The MKO is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.

RFE/RL could not immediately verify the authenticity of the materials, some of which were undated and marked "very confidential," indicating they could be drafts.

Iran’s Presidential Office has dismissed reports of a cyberattack on its website, but it said there was some temporary downtime on it due to ongoing maintenance and the unveiling of an upgraded version of the site.

Azerbaijan has not officially commented on the reports.

Relations between Tehran and Baku have become increasingly strained in recent months, particularly after an armed attack on Baku's embassy in Tehran in January.

Azerbaijan halted the operation of its embassy in Iran after a security guard was killed and two others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on its grounds. Baku blamed the January 27 attack on the Iranian secret service and called it an "act of terrorism."

Some of the documents released by the hacking group offer previously unknown details of the embassy attack, including specifics about the identity and history of the attacker, his "ideological relations" with "Chechens," his interrogation, and some of his family members.

The leaks also said a police patrol left the scene of the embassy shooting after it took place. According to the documents, there was a 20-minute delay in law enforcement arriving at the scene.

In the aftermath of the attack, Azerbaijani diplomats and their families were quickly evacuated from Iran, sparking a severe diplomatic dispute. The leaked document suggests that the attack not only closed "windows of hope for improving relations" but pushed the trajectory of the bilateral relationship toward further escalation.

Tensions were further heightened following a failed assassination attempt in Baku on an Azerbaijani parliamentarian who has been critical of Iran.

Some of the leaked documents indicated an urgent need for a re-evaluation of Iran's diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan. The confidential document was purportedly dispatched to several top officials, including the foreign minister and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

The documents also give advice on strategic communication tactics, including attempts to distance Azerbaijani society from its government, sensitizing Russia to Azerbaijan's movements, and attributing Azerbaijan's policies from Iran to "Zionist" influences.

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

Moldova's EU Path Independent Of Transdniester Developments, Says Borrell

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives for the European Political Community Summit at the Mimi Castle in Bulboaca, Moldova, on June 1.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the European Political Community summit on June 1 in Moldova that Chisinau has a clear journey to joining the European Union and "must work toward reforms to fulfill the path to integration." Asked if the Russian-backed breakaway Transdniester region would be an obstacle to Moldova's EU membership, Borrell said, "Moldova's path is independent of what's happening with Transdniester. Cyprus has become an EU member despite having a territorial dispute [with Turkey]. Moldova can do the same." Moldova and Ukraine were invited to start membership negotiations with the EU last year. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Updated

Zelenskiy Reiterates That Ukraine Is Ready To Join NATO As Russian Strike Kills Child, Two Others In Kyiv

Police officers carry the body of a victim of a Russian strike in Kyiv on June 1.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has asked NATO for a "clear" decision on Ukraine's future with the Western military alliance as another wave of air strikes on Kyiv killed at least three people, including one child, who were shut out of an air-raid shelter.

Speaking at a summit of the European Political Community (EPC) in neighboring Moldova, Zelenskiy said Ukraine is "ready to join NATO" and the group needs to make a decision at it summit in Vilnius next month.

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.

"In the summer in Vilnius at the NATO summit a clear invitation from the members of Ukraine is needed," he said, adding that "security guarantees on the way to NATO membership" are needed as well.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Oslo that all NATO allies agree and are "moving" toward the country becoming a member, though German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that while the alliance's door remains open for new members, it cannot be joined by a country that is at war.

"NATO's open-door policy remains in place, but at the same time it is clear that we cannot talk about accepting new members (who are) in the midst of a war," she told reporters in Oslo.

Zelenskiy said after the meeting that he had "heard powerful support from many countries" for a coalition of states to provide F-16 fighter jets. He noted that the F-16 jets he is seeking are supplied by the United States, adding: "With help of the United States we will create this coalition."

Russia will continue to have air supremacy until Ukraine has fighter jets, Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy also mentioned the coalition of fighter jets in a tweet highlighting his meeting with the leaders of European countries.

"We discussed issues related to the start of training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 and other types of aircraft," he said. "We agreed to continue working on an official decision to create the Ukrainian Sky Shield coalition of combat aircraft at the next meeting in the Ramstein format after further consultations with the U.S. side."

The diplomatic push came after the capital was rocked by another attack that forced Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko to cancel all scheduled events to celebrate June 1, when many former communist countries celebrate International Children's Day.

Klitschko said debris fell on a medical clinic, a kindergarten, a school, and a police station in the capital's Desnyansk district during the first Russian attack of the month that also damaged apartment buildings, a water pipeline, and cars.

At first, Klitschko and the Kyiv military administration reported two children were among the three dead, but then revised the number to one. The child killed in the attack is thought to have been 10 or 11 years old.

Sixteen other people were wounded and seven of them were hospitalized, authorities said.

Yaroslav Ryabchuk, the 34-year-old husband of one of the women killed, told RFE/RL that his wife died on the street when she and their daughter were going to a shelter in the nearby medical clinic, which, he said, was locked.

Ryabchuk's 9-year-old daughter was unharmed in the attack.

Residents told RFE/RL it was not the first time that people in the district were unable to get into the shelter. Many expressed outrage at Klitschko, who visited the site and said an investigation was opened into why the shelter was locked.

He added that he had ordered an additional check of access to all shelters in Kyiv.

The Ukrainian capital has been targeted by 18 waves of Russian air strikes in the past month.

The Ukrainian military said Russia used Iskander missiles in the June 1 attack that targeted infrastructure in the Kyiv region.

"Preliminarily, [it was established that] 10 out of 10 missiles were destroyed by the Ukrainian air defense," the military said in its morning report.

Separately, four civilians were killed and another 11 were wounded by Russian shelling over the past day in Donetsk, Kherson, and Kharkiv regions, regional military administrations said.

In the east, Ukrainian defenders repelled 21 Russian assaults in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions, the General Staff reported in its daily bulletin on June 1.

Two of the unsuccessful attacks targeted Ukrainian positions in the area of Bakhmut, the Donetsk city that has been the focal point of the war in the Donbas for the past several months, the military said.

Amid an uptick of cross-border attacks on Russian territory, the Russian Defense Ministry said on June 1 that said it had repelled three Ukrainian attacks on the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.

The ministry said its troops had prevented Ukrainian units from crossing the border into Belgorod and that Kyiv's forces had been driven back, state-owned news agency TASS reported.

Earlier, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said "uninterrupted shelling" hit a town and wounded eight people overnight.

"Shebekino is facing uninterrupted shelling" with rocket launchers, Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram, adding that no one was killed.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Ukraine has denied its military is involved in incursions into the Belgorod region and says they are being conducted by Russian volunteer fighters.

With reporting by Aleksander Palikot in Kyiv, Reuters, AFP, and AP
Updated

Kosovar President Open To New Elections In Areas Of Northern Kosovo Where Clashes Occurred

Kosovar Vjosa Osmani attends a summit of European leaders in Moldova on June 1.

The president of Kosovo confirmed that France and Germany have suggested holding new elections in four municipalities in northern Kosovo as a means of defusing tensions over the forced installation of ethnic-Albanian mayors.

Vjosa Osmani said she told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Pristina is "ready to consider that possibility."

Osmani also said she told the European leaders that legal procedures make it possible to hold elections.

"I informed them that our legislation allows this possibility and we are ready to consider it based on the law on elections of Kosovo," Osmani said.

Macron, speaking on June 1 at a summit of European leaders in Moldova, said he and Scholz also asked for Kosovo's election rules to be clarified.

Macron's comments came as diplomats pushed for an end to the standoff that erupted in violent clashes earlier this week involving NATO peacekeepers.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albert Kurti showed no signs of backing down in a dispute over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in areas of North Kosovo dominated by ethnic Serbs as diplomats pushed for an end to a standoff that erupted in violent clashes involving NATO peacekeepers several days earlier.

Speaking to Kosovar media on June 1, Kurti said the mayors, elected in April in balloting boycotted by ethnic Serbs, should "go and work in their offices."

"We need to have normality.... What is the meaning of having public buildings for state officials if they are not used?" he added.

Ethnic Serb protesters gathered for a fourth day in three northern Kosovo towns, but in smaller numbers than in the previous days after violent clashes earlier in the week over the forced installation of the mayors. An apparent social-media organized counterprotest by Albanian citizens was also reported in the divided city of Mitrovica, in ethnic-Serb- dominated northern Kosovo.

International efforts to end the standoff saw key diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urge "immediate de-escalation"by both Serbia and Kosovo.

The crisis started when ethnic Albanian mayors were installed with the help of Kosovar police in three towns with an overwhelming ethnic Serbian majority -- Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok -- following by-elections in April with a turnout of under 3.5 percent amid a Serb boycott.

Violence that broke out on May 29 between ethnic Serbs trying to prevent the mayors having access to municipal offices and Kosovar police continued after the intervention of KFOR international troops, who suffered dozens of injuries.

A tense calm has since followed the clashes as KFOR installed razor-wire barricades around municipal buildings to keep protesters at bay.

Kosovo Serbs Continue Protests As NATO Bolsters Peacekeeping Force
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One ethnic Albanian mayor, Lulzim Hetemi, has been in his office in Leposavic since early on May 29 with NATO peacekeepers keeping him separated from protesters. The ethnic Albanian mayors for Zvecan and Zubin Potok have been working remotely from their home villages.

Despite appeals by the United States and the EU to return to dialogue, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti is continuing to insist that the ethnic Albanian mayors have the legal right to take over municipal buildings in the towns where they were elected even as their legitimacy was being contested by the Serbs.

The United States has proposed allowing the mayors to work from locations other than the municipal buildings, but Kurti told RFE/RL on May 31 that such an order would be regarded as proof of a parallel structure being created within Kosovo.

During the summit in Moldova, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Macron, and Scholz held an "informal meeting" with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani, a diplomatic source told Reuters.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on June 1 that the alliance, which announced it was supplementing its Kosovo contingent with 700 more troops, is ready to send even more forces to calm the situation. Stoltenberg was speaking at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo.

He added that the first 700 troops were already on their way to Kosovo.

The Belgrade-backed Serbian List (Srpska Lista) said the protests will stop only when their demands for the removal of Kosovar Albanian mayors and the withdrawal of special police units from the north are met.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, and AP

NATO Monitors Moldova's Skies As European Leaders Gather

Moldovan President Maia Sandu (right) welcomes European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a media conference in Chisinau prior to the start of the European Political Community Summit on May 31.

NATO will monitor the skies over Moldova as more than 40 European leaders attend a summit close to Ukraine's borders to show support for both countries as Kyiv prepares a counteroffensive against Russia's invasion. The gathering of the EU's 27 member states and 20 other European countries at a castle just 20 kilometers from Ukrainian territory poses a security and organizational challenge for a country of 2.6 million people wedged between Ukraine and NATO member state Romania. NATO Airborne Warning and Control Systems surveillance aircraft will watch the skies over the summit venue through June 2, NATO said in a statement. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

U.S. Lawmakers Support International Tribunal To Prosecute Crimes Of Aggression In Ukraine

Beth Van Schaack, the top U.S. diplomat for global criminal justice, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on May 31. She said the tribunal could lead to "the most consequential trial in history since Nuremburg,"

WASHINGTON -- U.S. lawmakers and a top U.S. diplomat expressed support on May 31 for the creation of an international tribunal separate from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try crimes of aggression that have taken place during the war in Ukraine.

Both French President Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have recently called for the creation of such an independent, international tribunal.

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U.S. senators and the top U.S. diplomat for global criminal justice, Beth Van Schaack, discussed the current U.S. efforts to make the tribunal a reality at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about holding Russia accountable for crimes of aggression.

Senators debated the plans for the tribunal, acknowledging that many details still remain to be worked out. The current plan calls for the tribunal to be based on the Ukrainian justice system, but hearings would be held outside of Ukraine as long as the war is still going on. They would move to a venue inside the country after the war ends.

The tribunal would target crimes of aggression rather than crimes against humanity currently being prosecuted by the ICC.

Van Schaack stressed the large impact this tribunal, as well as the current efforts of the ICC, would have, stating these efforts would lead to "potentially the most consequential trial in history since Nuremburg," a reference to the war crimes trials held after World War II resulting in sentences for many Nazi war criminals.

Van Schaack also detailed international implications, saying that an international tribunal for crimes of aggression would likely implicate Belarus for assisting in Russian acts of aggression. Additionally, by specifically looking at crimes of aggression, the diplomat said the tribunal could prosecute Russian aggression from as early as the 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea.

The State Department also hopes the establishment of a tribunal against aggression would send an international message against "similar blatant violations of state sovereignty," Van Schaack said.

Because the current proposal is based in the Ukrainian courts, the committee agreed that there would need to be significant oversight and capacity assistance from international partners.

Additional challenges exist in the current prosecution of atrocities as the war rages on. Van Schaak emphasized that the tribunal, as well as similar efforts from the ICC and the European Council, would likely take decades to serve justice.

All members of the committee affirmed their commitment to Russian accountability, with one senator stating "impunity is not an option."

With reporting by Shelby Rayer in Washington

White House Announces New Military Aid Package For Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on May 31.

The White House on May 31 announced another aid package for Ukraine that includes up to $300 million worth of air-defense systems, ammunition, and other defense equipment. The security assistance package represents the 39th drawdown of equipment from the Defense Department inventories, the Pentagon said. The package includes Patriot air-defense batteries, Stinger antiaircraft systems, tank ammunition, and other equipment. In total, the United States has committed more than $37.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.

Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office Requests Permission To Prosecute Opposition Leader

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office wants to prosecute MP Adakhan Madumarov on charges of abuse of power and preparing to seize power by force. (file photo)

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office on May 31 formally asked lawmakers to allow the prosecution of the leader of the opposition Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan party over alleged attempts to seize power. The chairman of the Kyrgyz parliament said that the Prosecutor-General's Office has received a proposal to bring Adakhan Madumarov, who is also a member of parliament, to criminal responsibility. A parliamentary commission of inquiry was formed following a vote by lawmakers. Possible charges include abuse of power and preparing to seize power by force. Madumarov, 58, said the move was politically motivated and punishment for his criticism of authorities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iranian Judiciary Chief Defends Executions Of Protesters

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

The head of Iran’s judiciary has staunchly defended issuing death sentences for several demonstrators involved in nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was detained by morality police for allegedly violating the mandatory hijab law.

In a speech delivered on May 30, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei stated that the sentences for those who "should be executed" will be carried out without exception "while maintaining legal standards and fairness."

Iran has so far executed at least seven protesters, sparking outrage among rights activists and many Western governments who have called the legal proceedings against the accused "sham" trials where proper representation is not always granted and decisions are rushed behind closed doors.

Amnesty International in a recent report warned about the imminent execution risk of seven more detainees from the protests. The human rights group named the seven as Ebrahim Naroui, Kambiz Kharot, Manochehr Mehmannavaz, Mansoreh Dehmardeh, Mohammad Ghabadlo, Mujahed (Abbas) Korkor, and Shoaib Mirbaluchzehi Rigi.

Mohseni-Ejei characterized the civil resistance against mandatory hijab, which has been led by Iranian women, as a "challenge of chastity and hijab" while claiming that such resistance has been influenced by the "hand of the enemy."

He did not elaborate, but Iranian officials have consistently blamed the West for the demonstrations -- the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution -- and have vowed to continue to crack down hard on protesters.

Last November, Mohseni-Ejei's defense of the execution of Mohsen Shekari, a young protester accused of waging war against God for "closing a street and injuring a Basij paramilitary member," has been met with fierce criticism.

Legal experts have decried the imposition of the death penalty for the charge of "waging war against God," a crime often applied to political dissidents.

Responding to the worrying trend, six prominent legal scholars and an Iranian human rights lawyer penned a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to express their grave concern over the escalating number of executions in Iran.

The signatories cited the abuse of national sovereignty principles by the Islamic republic to justify widespread executions, resulting in limited global capacity to prevent these inhuman actions effectively.

Human rights activists say authorities in Iran are using the executions to try to instill fear in society rather than to combat crime.

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

Four Crimean Tatars Sentenced To Long Prison Terms For Ties To Islamic Group Banned In Russia

The four Crimean Tatars stand in a defendents' cage at a court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don on May 31.

A court in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don has sentenced four Crimean Tatar activists to lengthy prison sentences for organizing and participating in the activities of the Islamic political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir.

One of the four men, Dzhebbar Bekirov, received a 17-year prison sentence for his work with Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned by Russia as a terrorist organization since 2003 but remains legal in Ukraine, and for preparing for the seizure of power.

The other three -- Zaur Abdullayev, Rustem Murasov, and Rustem Tairov -- received 12 years each on the same charges, according to the Crimean Solidarity group on May 31.

All four will spend the first four years of their sentences in prison and the remainder in a maximum-security penal colony. The court also added a year and a half of restrictions to Bekirov to be served after his release and a year of restrictions for the others, also to be served after their release, Crimean Solidarity said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the "falsified and worthless" sentences show that Russia is resorting to all kinds of crimes in the temporarily occupied territories with the aim of destroying centers of freedom of thought and religion that are not under the control of its punitive bodies.

"Violence and repression cannot be the answer to the right to express one's beliefs and protect one's identity," the ministry said on its website.

The sentences were announced one week after the same court sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Ernes Seytosmanov to 18 years in prison on terrorism charges for his involvement in the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement. Seytosmanov was also found guilty of participating in the activities of a terrorist organization and preparing for a violent seizure of power. His lawyer, Aleksei Ladin, said the court's ruling will be appealed.

Bekirov, Tairov, Murasov, and Abdullayev were detained in August 2021 in Russian-controlled Crimea after their homes were searched.

Since Russia illegally seized Crimea in 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars on various charges that rights organizations have called trumped up.

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and those who have spoken out against Moscow's takeover of the peninsula.

Russia claimed control of Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries.

Since January 2015, criminal cases related to the Hizb ut-Tahrir have been initiated in Crimea under the de facto control of Russia. In Ukraine, the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir are not prohibited.

Human rights activists say members of the organization are being persecuted not for preparing to seize power but for public actions against political repression in Crimea, criticism of Russian authorities, and for mass disloyalty in response to the events of 2014 as well as to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.

War At 'Important Moment' Ahead Of Ukraine's Expected Military Push, Potential Peace Talks, Macron Says

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Paris on May 14. Macron said on May 31 that Europe needed to "provide clear and tangible security guarantees" to Ukraine.

BRATISLAVA -- Ahead of a looming counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces on the battlefield, French President Emmanuel Macron has called for advancing peace negotiations on the war in Ukraine on Kyiv’s terms.

Speaking at the GLOBSEC security conference in Bratislava on May 31, Macron said there should be no compromises in terms of Ukraine's territorial integrity and that Kyiv has battlefield momentum on its side.

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.


"This is a very important moment," the French president said about the expected military moves by Kyiv. "Whatever happens, I do believe they [the Ukrainians] will deliver."

Macron, however, cautioned against expecting that the military push would create a breakthrough in terms of diplomatic negotiations with Moscow to end the war.

The counteroffensive "will not create de facto acceptance from the Russians to negotiate," Macron said.

Despite expressing caution toward diplomatic talks with the Kremlin, Macron said "a new energy" to engage in diplomacy from countries in the Global South is under way and that it could lead to a "conclusive" peace process that is "not a cease-fire" in the coming months.

"If we accept a cease-fire or a frozen conflict [in Ukraine], time will be on Russia's side," Macron said.

The comments come after The Wall Street Journal reported that Ukraine and its allies are planning a summit of global leaders that would exclude Russia and would be aimed at garnering support for Kyiv's terms for ending the war.

The report, which cited senior Ukrainian officials and European diplomats, said plans for the summit were in the preliminary stages and Macron had lobbied to also include countries that have sided with Russia or declined to take a position on the war such as China, India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia.

In response to a question from the audience while on stage at the GLOBSEC conference, Macron said Europe needed to "provide clear and tangible security guarantees" to Ukraine and progress could be achieved at the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius in June, although he cautioned that he does not expect the meeting to reach a consensus.

"I think this debate will happen in Vilnius, and this is what we will discuss with [German] Chancellor [Olaf] Scholz next week and other players," Macron said. "But we need a path toward [NATO] membership" for Ukraine.

Gunmen Kill Soldier In Attack On Polio Workers In Pakistan

A health worker administers a polio vaccine to a child in Peshawar, Pakistan, on May 22.

Gunmen killed one soldier and wounded another on May 31 when they opened fire on security forces escorting a team of polio workers during a door-to-door inoculation campaign in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border, police said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. It came days after the government launched the latest polio eradication campaign, said Aslam Riaz, a police officer in the region. He said the polio workers escaped unharmed and the attackers fled the scene. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Germany To Shut Down Russian Consulates In Tit-For-Tat Move

The Russian Embassy in Berlin will remain operational. (file photo)

Germany said on May 31 it would shut down four out of five Russian consulates by revoking their licenses, a tit-for-tat move after Moscow's decision to limit the number of German officials in Russia to 350. The move represents a sharp downgrading of bilateral ties amid a collapse in relations since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government would still be allowed to operate its embassy in Berlin and one general consulate. Germany expects the rest to cease operations by the end of the year. Russia denounced the proposed closures as ill-conceived and provocative and said it would respond. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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