Biden Warns Threat Of Russian Invasion Of Ukraine 'Very High' As Russia Expels No. 2 Diplomat
U.S. President Joe Biden says the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is "very high" but that the door to a diplomatic solution remains open, even after Russia expelled the No. 2 official from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Biden told reporters on February 17 as he departed the White House that he had received Russia's response to U.S. security proposals but could not comment because he had not yet read it.
Asked to assess the threat level, Biden said: "My sense is this [attack] will happen in the next several days."
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Biden said Russia has not moved back its forces from the Ukrainian border as Moscow has claimed and said the United States has reason to believe Russia is engaged in a “false-flag operation” to justify an invasion.
"Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine and attack Ukraine," Biden added.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy confirmed the expulsion of Bart Gorman, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Moscow but gave no details on why the move was taken.
"Russia’s action against our DCM was unprovoked and we consider this an escalatory step and are considering our response," a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN Security Council that Russia is “taking steps down the path to war” and that the only responsible way to resolve the crisis over its troop buildup near Ukraine is diplomacy.
The U.S. chief diplomat warned that Russian forces are preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in "coming days," and it likely would be preceded by fake or real attacks that would give it a pretext to invade. He said the targets include the capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million people.
Blinken said he wanted to speak to the council “not to start a war but to prevent one.” He urged Russia to "choose a different path” and avert a war that would affect the lives and safety of millions of people.
"The Russian government can announce today, with no qualification, equivocation, or deflection, that Russia will not invade Ukraine. State it clearly. State it plainly to the world, and then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, the planes back to their barracks and hangars and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table," Blinken said, speaking to the 15-member council in New York.
He also said he has asked for another in-person meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to take place next week in Europe and said Germany and France are standing by ready to take up negotiations on the conflict in eastern Ukraine following the Minsk accords.
If Russia wants diplomacy the United States and its allies “will give Moscow every opportunity for it to demonstrate that commitment,” Blinken said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin told the council the military scenarios put forward by Blinken were regrettable and dangerous and said some Russian soldiers are returning to their home bases.
The United States and NATO earlier this week dismissed Russia’s claims of a troop withdrawal and said Moscow was in fact sending more forces to areas near Ukraine.
WATCH: Acting U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien says there is still cause for concern about what awaits Ukraine as Russia masses its troops on the country's border. Kvien spoke on February 16 with RFE/RL in Lviv in western Ukraine, where the U.S. Embassy has been temporarily relocated.
Biden spoke after Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the east traded accusations of shelling across the cease-fire line, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accusing the separatist forces of shelling a kindergarten.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after a two-day meeting of the alliance's defense ministers in Brussels on February 17 that the Russians "have enough troops, enough capabilities to launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine with very little or no warning time."
"That is what makes the situation so dangerous," Stoltenberg added.
The Ukrainian military's command center in the east said separatists had, "with special cynicism," fired heavy artillery at a village in the area controlled by Kyiv and "the shells hit a kindergarten," wounding two civilians.
Zelenskiy said the shelling of the kindergarten was a "big provocation," while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a "false-flag" operation.
"A kindergarten was shelled in what we...know was a false-flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action," Johnson told British media.
Separatist authorities in the Luhansk region, in turn, claimed the Ukrainian side was shelling across the line of contact, describing it as a "large-scale provocation."
Ukraine has been fighting separatists in the east since April 2014 in a conflict that has cost at least 13,200 lives.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on February 17 warned that Russia was seeking to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine after Moscow said it was "concerned" about the shelling.
"Reports of alleged abnormal military activity by Ukraine in Donbas are a blatant attempt by the Russian government to fabricate pretexts for invasion. This is straight out of the Kremlin playbook," Truss said on Twitter, adding that Britain would "continue to call out Russia's disinformation campaign."
NATO and several Western governments have said that Russia is continuing to beef up its military presence near the border with Ukraine despite Moscow's "false" claims that it had started to withdraw troops from the area as frantic diplomatic efforts continue amid fears that Russia is about to invade its neighbor.
Russian officials said the pullback continued on February 17, but those claims appeared to be rebutted by satellite images from Maxar Technologies, a private U.S. company that has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces for weeks, which showed military equipment arriving even as some deployed near Ukraine's border had been moved. The images show the building of a pontoon bridge in Belarus less than 6 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
"We have seen the opposite of some of the statements [from Moscow]. We have seen an increase of troops over the last 48 hours, up to 7,000," British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
Wallace's comments were echoed by EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who said on February 17 that "we hear claims from Russia about pulling back troops but we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground."
"To the contrary, the buildup continues," she told reporters in Brussels ahead of an extraordinary EU summit set to discuss the crisis.
Russia is using the troop buildup to coerce the United States and NATO into agreeing to sweeping security demands, including a ban on Ukraine’s membership in the Western alliance and a rollback of NATO's advances in Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The state TASS news agency quoted Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying the responses delivered to the United States offer a chance for Washington to cooperate to develop a new "security equation" for Europe. It did not give any further details.
In Washington, a senior White House official slammed Moscow's announcement of a withdrawal as "false," telling journalists that Russia had increased its presence on the border with Ukraine by "as many as 7,000 troops," some of whom arrived on February 16.
The official, who requested anonymity, also warned that Russia could use "a false pretext" to attack Ukraine.
"We continue to receive indications they could launch a false pretext at any moment to justify an invasion." The official added that while Moscow had said it wants to reach a diplomatic solution, its actions "indicate otherwise."
Separately, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, "This is the Russian playbook, to paint a picture publicly...while they do the opposite."
As the West continued to question the veracity of Moscow's statements, Russia on February 17 announced a new drawdown of military forces from the occupied Crimean Peninsula.
"Units of the southern military district that ended tactical exercises at training grounds on the Crimean peninsula are returning by rail to their permanent bases," the Defense Ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
State-run television showed columns of military hardware crossing a recently-constructed bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland.
Ahead of a visit to Kyiv on February 17, Truss also warned that Putin could drag out the Ukraine crisis for months in an attempt to challenge Western unity.
"There is currently no evidence the Russians are withdrawing from border regions near Ukraine," Truss wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper. "The Russian military buildup shows no signs of slowing."
"We must have no illusions that Russia could drag this out much longer in a brazen ploy to spend weeks more -- if not months -- subverting Ukraine and challenging Western unity," wrote Truss, who is due in Ukraine on February 17.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said on February 16 that "the risk of a further military aggression by Russia" remains "high," according to a statement issued following a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden. Scholz met with Putin in the Kremlin earlier in the week.
The Kremlin has rejected it has any plan to invade Ukraine, calling the Western warnings hysterical war propaganda.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Trudeau Arrives In Kyiv To Show Ukraine Support
Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk says he has welcomed Justin Trudeau in Kyiv after the Canadian prime minister's arrival for a show of support on June 10. A tweet by Melnyk showed the men shaking hands on a train platform. There was no advanced announcement of the visit and few details are available so far. Canada has been among Ukraine's leading international supporters and, in addition to its recent contribution of eight Leopard 2 battle tanks, its Defense Ministry announced a $29 million military aid package in April. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
German Chancellor Says He Plans To Speak To Putin 'Soon'
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on June 10 that he planned to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone soon, to urge him to withdraw troops from Ukraine. Speaking at a convention of the German Protestant church in Nuremberg, Scholz said he had spoken to Putin on the phone in the past. "I plan to do it again soon," the chancellor added.
New Zealand Broadcaster Probes Edits That Presented 'False,' 'Russian View' Of Ukraine War
New Zealand's only noncommercial, public broadcaster has announced an outside investigation and review of its editing of online stories after what it called "15 instances of inappropriate editing" that pushed a "false account" of the ongoing war in Ukraine. A Radio New Zealand media reporter added that stories "were edited to align with the Russian view of events." The broadcaster said it was probing the actions of a single employee who is currently on leave. Fourteen of the 15 stories related directly to the ongoing war in Ukraine, while the other concerned a Serbian accusation against Kyiv.
UN Court Clears 32 Of Kyiv's Allies To Participate In Trial Alleging Genocide Against Russia
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has admitted requests by 32 of Ukraine's allies to join a trial in which Kyiv alleges that Russia is guilty of genocide in the current war and that Moscow misused the international genocide convention to falsely justify its invasion of Ukraine last year. The 14-to-1 decision by the UN's highest judges clears the way for all 26 EU members minus Hungary to participate in the trial, along with other allies but not the United States. Russia has boycotted the process. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Nord Stream Sabotage Probe Turns To Clues Inside Poland, WSJ Reports
German investigators are examining evidence suggesting a sabotage team used Poland as an operating base to damage the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September, the Wall Street Journal reported on June 10. German investigators have fully reconstructed the two-week voyage of the Andromeda, a 15-meter white pleasure yacht suspected of being involved in the sabotage of the pipelines that supply Russian gas to Europe, the newspaper said. The Washington Post reported this week that the United States had learned of a Ukrainian plan to attack the pipelines three months before they were damaged by the underwater explosions. To see the original story by Reuters, click here.
Evacuations Continue In Ukraine's Flooded South As Fighting, Bombings Rage Farther East
Floodwaters receded slightly in some parts of southern Ukraine but surged in others overnight on June 9-10 as rescue efforts continued and a UN official warned of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the breach this week of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Russian forces meanwhile battled in the southern Zaporizhzhya region where many analysts suggest a major Ukrainian counteroffensive got under way this week, and the deadly bombardment of Ukrainian cities continued overnight.
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More than 10,000 residents of a region downstream from the major southern city of Kherson were said to have been cut off from the rest of Ukraine as flooding extended to the Inhulets River, a tributary of the Dnieper.
The head of the regional military administration in the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said via Telegram that 35 settlements have been flooded on the right bank of the Dnieper, and 3,763 houses are under water.
The breach of Kakhovka dam early this month is feared to be one of Europe's biggest environmental and industrial disasters in decades.
Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has said it intercepted telephone communications between Russian military personnel that "confirm" Russia's involvement in the destruction of the dam, which has been under Russian control since early in the invasion, but Moscow continues to deny responsibility.
On June 9, Norway's seismological institute (NORSAR) said it had detected a possible "explosion" around the time of the dam's breaching.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated under difficult wartime conditions and active shelling suspected of being carried out by Russian forces.
In the Russian-occupied town of Nova Kakhovka where the dam is located, Mayor Volodymyr Kovalenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on June 9 that water levels, whicjh rose as much as six meters after the breach, were beginning to fall. The town remains without electricity, he said.
The head of Kherson's regional council, Oleksandr Samoyilenka, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that evacuations from flooded cities were being carried out all day on June 9 and the situation remained "stable but difficult."
"The water is leaving, but it is leaving very slowly. If it arrived quickly and with great pressure, then it descends very slowly, its level decreases centimeter by centimeter," Samoyilenko said.
He said the most difficult situation was in a heavily populated district, Ostriv.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said an “extraordinary” 700,000 people are in need of drinking water in the area.
He also noted the Ukrainian region's significance in global food supplies and said a "viral" effect of the dam's destruction will be lower grain exports and higher prices for food around the world.
Reports of heavy fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine have fueled expectations that Kyiv might finally announce it has begun its long-awaited counteroffensive.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy avoided any such statement on June 9, saying merely that "We focus our attention on all directions where our actions are needed and where the enemy may suffer certain defeats.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that the Ukrainian counteroffensive was under way but was being largely repelled.
RFE/RL cannot independently confirm reports of developments in areas of the heaviest fighting.
The Ukrainian General Staff said in its situation report early on June 10 that "heavy fighting continues" as the Russian side focused "its main efforts on attempts to fully occupy the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts" in the east.
It cited Russian offensive operations in the area of Bakhmut, where months of intense fighting left Russian forces in control of much of the city.
The Ukrainian military suggested it was focusing its own offensive operations on the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson areas in the south, where some outsiders have speculated Kyiv might try to cut off a so-called land bridge connecting Russian-annexed Crimea with mainland Ukraine.
It said Russian forces were being kept "on the defensive" in Zaporizhzhya and Kherson.
Kyiv also claimed that Russian occupation forces were only allowing residents with Russian passports to evacuate flood-affected areas of the Kherson region. RFE/RL could not independently corroborate that accusation.
Air-alert sirens sounded in many parts of the country overnight, with Ukraine's southern command citing combat operations in the skies over Odesa and Mykolayiv.
Lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko said two people were killed in an attack by Iranian-made kamikaze drones and another 12 people were injured in blasts following an air alert in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time, and AP
- By AP
UN Aid Chief Says Ukraine Faces 'Hugely Worse' Humanitarian Situation After Dam Rupture
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is “hugely worse” than before the Kakhovka dam collapsed, the UN's top aid official warned on June 9. Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths said an “extraordinary” 700,000 people are in need of drinking water and warned that the ravages of flooding in one of the world’s most important breadbaskets will almost inevitably lead to lower grain exports, higher food prices around the world, and less to eat for millions in need. He called it "a viral problem.” The dam and reservoir lie in the Kherson region, which Moscow illegally annexed in September and has occupied for a year. To see the original story by AP, click here.
Serbs Take To Streets In Sixth Anti-Government Protest Since Mass Shootings Last Month
Tens of thousands of people marched on June 9 in another anti-government protest in Belgrade criticizing the government's response to two mass shootings last month in which 18 people died.
The protesters called for the resignation of President Aleksandar Vucic and stuck messages to the door of the government building, including one that said, "Enough is enough."
Cardboard figures depicting Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic in black-and-white striped prison suits were also left in front of the government building.
The march was the sixth "Serbia against violence" protest since the first shooting on May 3, and, like the others, blamed a culture of violence for the shootings. The key demand of the protesters is "stopping the promotion of violence in public space."
Actor Milan Maric addressed the crowd, saying that while the victims' lives cannot be returned, "we can make sure that this doesn't happen again. We want Serbia without violence, Serbia with hope."
Serbia was rocked by unprecedented back-to-back mass shootings last month. The May 3 shooting was at a school in Belgrade and claimed 10 lives. A teenage boy who attended the school was arrested at the scene. The second mass shooting occurred the following day and left eight people dead. A 21-year-old man was arrested in that shooting.
In addition to calling for Vucic to resign, the protesters demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic and security agency chief Aleksandar Vulin, whom they blame for failing to bring criminal groups to justice.
Vucic previously rejected the dismissal of Gasic but did not comment on Vulin.
The protesters also want the withdrawal of national broadcast licenses for television channels Pink TV and Happy TV and a ban on some tabloids they blame for promoting violence. A change of the management of the Radio Television of Serbia was also mentioned as a demand.
The protesters vowed to start "new actions" if their demands are not met by the end of next week.
Brnabic on June 7 said the protesters' demands were political. She offered to resign but also invited the opposition parties -- which have backed the protests --- to take part in dialogue.
Protest leaders have said that they will not speak with the government until all their demands are met.
Vucic said on June 7 that it was clear that there would be extraordinary parliamentary elections and that it was only a matter of choosing the month they will be held. Early elections, however, are not on among the protesters' demands.
Vucic told Reuters on June 9 that his government was not at fault.
"Is the government to blame for crimes that happened? I cannot accept that."
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Pakistan Targets Fiscal Deficit Of 6.54 Percent In Budget Closely Watched By IMF
Pakistan's government will target a budget deficit of 6.54 percent of economic output in the fiscal year starting on July 1, the finance minister said on June 9. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the target during his budget speech to the national legislature. The budget must satisfy the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure the release of bailout money. Dar reiterated that the government hoped to get an agreement with the IMF soon, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as he addressed his cabinet. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
IS-K Claims Afghan Attack On Taliban Official's Funeral
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an explosion inside a mosque during a funeral service for a Taliban official in the northern Afghanistan province of Badakhshan. Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) claimed responsibility in a statement on June 9. The blast occurred on June 8 and killed at least 19 people, including the former Taliban security commander in the city of Baghlan, and wounded 38 others. The funeral was for the Taliban's provincial deputy governor, Nissar Ahmad Ahmadi, who was killed along with his driver in a suicide car bombing three days earlier. IS-K also claimed responsibility for that attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.
U.S. Charges Two Russians In Hack Of Mt. Gox Cryptoexchange
The United States has charged two Russian nationals related to the 2011 hack of the cryptocurrency exchange Mt. Gox and the operation of the illicit cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e. The two Russians – Aleksei Bilyuchenko, 43, and Aleksandr Verner, 29, -- are charged with conspiring to launder approximately 647,000 Bitcoins from their hack of Mt. Gox, which ceased to exist after the theft, the U.S. Justice Department said on June 9. Bilyuchenko is also charged with conspiring with Aleksandr Vinnik to operate BTC-e, which was shut down in 2017. The whereabouts of Bilyuchenko and Verner are unknown. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Activist Says Authorities Trying To Push Him Out Of The Country
Prominent Iranian civil activist Hossein Ronaghi says he won't leave the country despite moves by the government to ratchet up pressure on him, including the freezing of his bank accounts and the violation of his civil rights.
Ronaghi said in a tweet on June 8 that the Information Ministry had requested he be forced into exile.
"Attacks and sending messages containing death threats are a sign of being pressured to leave the country," he wrote.
"But as I clearly stated before, I will not leave Iran, and if you think I have committed a crime, you can arrest me. But you cannot force me to leave my homeland."
Ronaghi was arrested during recent protests that are rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf, or hijab.
Security agents stormed Ronaghi's house and arrested him in September as he was giving an interview to London-based Iran International TV. He was released on bail in November after going on a weekslong hunger strike.
Several other political and civil activists have reported similar experiences after being released from custody, stating that they were repeatedly urged to leave Iran by their interrogators.
Since September 2022, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others. At least seven protesters have been executed after what rights groups and several Western governments have called "sham" trials.
Several more remain on death row and senior judiciary officials have said they are determined to ensure those convicted and sentenced have their punishments meted out.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Putin Says Transfer Of Tactical Nuclear Weapons To Belarus Will Start Next Month
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 9 during talks with Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka that the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons from Russia to Belarus will begin immediately after the construction of facilities is finished on July 7-8. The move would be the Kremlin's first deployment of such warheads outside Russia since 1991, spurring concerns in the West. Russian authorities have repeatedly raised the specter of the potential use of nuclear weapons since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Russian In Omsk Detained On Treason Charge
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on June 9 that a resident of the Siberian city of Omsk had been detained on a charge of high treason amid a growing number of such cases in recent months. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, allegedly passed classified information related to his former employer -- an industrial facility producing military equipment -- to German intelligence in exchange for German citizenship. In the last five months, 21 treason probes have been launched in Russia, while in 2022, that number was 22. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Uzbek Official Calls For Scrapping Talks With Russia On Constructing Nuclear Power Plant
Rasul Kusherbaev, an adviser to Uzbekistan's natural resources minister and a former lawmaker, has warned against signing of a deal with Russia on the construction of a long-discussed nuclear power plant. In a statement on June 9, Kusherbaev said the idea of a nuclear plant in Uzbekistan was "disastrous" in general, but even if the decision to build it is made, it should not be done with Moscow's involvement, as "Russia is neither a reliable partner, nor a reliable friend, but a bully, an aggressor, a blackmailer who invades someone's territory at any time." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Families, Rights Groups Accuse Iranian Government Of Intimidation Tactics By Desecrating Graves
A series of attack on the graves of protesters killed during nationwide protests in Iran have sparked accusations from activists and families of the dead that the government is engaging in a broad pattern of intimidation and disrespect to quell any further unrest following the death of a woman while in police custody in September 2022.
According to reports from the families of the deceased, the gravesites of Majid Kazemi in Isfahan, Abolfazl Adinehzadeh in Mashhad, and Milad Saeedianjou in Izeh have been andalized in recent days.
These come amid other recent reports of the graves of protesters killed during demonstrations beng desecrated, reportedly by Iranian government forces and security personnel.
The government has not commented on the accusations.
Mohammad Hashemi, a relative of Kazemi, said security forces contacted his family on June 7 and said the family had "no right to go to Majid's grave for his [31st] birthday."
Later that night, he added, agents went to the cemetery and set Majid's grave on fire.
The graves of Adinehzadeh and Saeedianjou were also vandalized under the cover of darkness, while in another case, the grave of Majidreza Rahnavard in Mashhad's Behesht Reza cemetery was subjected to multiple attacks, according to family members.
Mahsa Amini's family has also accused security forces of vandalizing the grave of their daughter, whose death ignited nationwide protests that have turned into one of the biggest threats to the Islamic republic's leadership since it took power in 1979.
Rights groups say officials, by concealing burial sites, inhibiting mourning ceremonies, and preventing families from installing tombstones or decorating their relatives' graves with flowers, pictures, badges, or memorial messages, are violating their rights under the International Covenant On Economic, Social, And Cultural Rights.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
U.S. Concerned That Iran Building Drone Factory Inside Russia
The United States says it has information that Iran intends to build a drone-manufacturing facility inside Russia that could become operational next year as Moscow and Tehran step up their military cooperation, posing an increased danger to Ukraine, the Middle East, and to the international community.
White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby said on June 9 that while Iran continued to supply Russia with drones that Moscow uses against Ukrainian civilians in its illegal war in Ukraine, the two countries now were taking steps to bring the drone production closer to the war zone by building a drone factory some 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow.
"We have information that Russia is receiving materials from Iran needed to build a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) manufacturing plant inside Russia. This plant could be fully operational early next year," Kirby said as the NSC released a satellite image of what it said was the location of the factory in Russia's Alabuga Special Economic Zone.
Kirby said that as of last month, Iran had shipped hundreds of suicide drones as well as drone-production-related equipment to Russia using a route across the Caspian Sea.
"The drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea, from Amirabad, Iran, to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine," Kirby said, as the NSC also released a graphic of the route.
Moscow in turn has been providing Iran -- a country that, like Russia, has been under biting international sanctions -- with military equipment on a level that Kirby said was more complex and more expensive than ever.
"Russia has been offering Iran unprecedented defense cooperation, including on missiles, electronics, and air defense," Kirby said, adding that Tehran announced a deal this year to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.
"Iran is seeking to purchase additional military equipment from Russia, including attack helicopters, radars, and YAK-130 combat trainer aircraft. In total, Iran is seeking billions of dollars' worth of military equipment from Russia," Kirby said.
As the drone transfers put both Moscow and Tehran in violation of the arms embargo stated in UN Resolution 2231, the United States and its allies will continue to use all available means to discontinue a partnership that was damaging for the rest of the world," Kirby said.
"This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors, and to the international community. We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public -- and we are prepared to do more," he said.
"We will continue to impose sanctions on the actors involved in the transfer of Iranian military equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine," Kirby said, adding that the United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed new restrictions "to prevent electronic components found in Iranian drones from being able to make their way onto the battlefield in Ukraine."
The U.S. government later on June 9 issued a new advisory to help businesses and other governments better understand the risks posed by the Iranian drones and the illegal means that Iran uses to obtain components for the manufacturing of drones.
"And, critically, we are working with allies and partners to ensure Ukraine has what it needs to defend and rebuild itself, including by providing Ukraine with air defense systems to help Ukraine protect its people," Kirby concluded.
Romanian Sets Herself On Fire To Protest Stagnating Probe Of 1989 Deaths
A 66-year-old Romanian woman died last month after setting herself on fire in a mountain resort near the central city of Brasov, Romanian media reported on June 9.
Ileana Negru, whose 12-year-old son, Florin, was killed in Brasov in 1989 during the uprising that ousted communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, committed suicide reportedly to protest the lack of progress in the official investigation of the more than 1,100 people killed in December 1989.
Negru set herself on fire on May 25, but authorities only reported her death officially on June 9 following inquiries by journalists.
The investigation into the 1989 deaths has been repeatedly stalled. In February, Romania's highest court finally ruled to send the case to a Bucharest appeals court.
Out of the 1,116 people killed during the so-called Romanian Revolution, 159 died at the hands of Ceausescu's security forces across Romania before he fled by helicopter on December 22.
The other almost 1,000 deaths were registered during fighting that broke out on December 23 amid calls addressed to civilians by the new authorities led by former communist apparatchik Ion Iliescu to support the army against unidentified gunmen allegedly still loyal to Ceausescu.
Confusion triggered by contradictory orders and appeals broadcast live on Romanian television led to deadly incidents of friendly fire in Bucharest and other places, while in cities such as Brasov, unidentified gunmen opened fire on unarmed celebrating crowds, killing dozens.
Gunfire stopped abruptly on Christmas Day after the newly installed authorities broadcast a video of the execution of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, following a highly controversial and hasty trial in a kangaroo court.
Iliescu, who subsequently served as president of Romania for three terms, is among those indicted in the case. Now 93, Iliescu has rarely been seen in public recently.
Negru's self-immolation is the second to occur in Poiana Brasov, a ski resort some 10 kilometers from Brasov.
In 1989, just months before the fall of the communist regime, protester Liviu Babes set himself on fire on a ski slope in plain view of Western tourists to protest Ceausescu's repression.
With reporting by G4media.ro and Digi24.ro
NATO Condemns Russia's Decision To Quit Treaty On Conventional Armed Forces In Europe
NATO has condemned Russia’s decision to quit the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, saying it "further demonstrates Moscow's continued disregard for arms control."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on June 9 that Moscow will withdraw from the treaty, known as the CFE, on November 7.
The statement said all countries involved in the treaty had been informed about the move.
It added that Finland's recent accession to NATO and Sweden's plans to join the alliance "significantly disrupted the secure and stable balance of conventional armed forces in Europe's north and was the last straw that made it necessary for Russia to leave the treaty."
Moscow signaled the move in May, when it said that the treaty was contrary to Russia's security interests "due to the changed situation."
NATO said in a statement that the allies condemned Russia's decision the withdraw from the treaty, calling it a “cornerstone of Europe’s security architecture."
"Russia’s decision to withdraw from the CFE Treaty is the latest in a series of actions that systematically undermines Euro-Atlantic security," the statement said.
Russia announced in 2015 that it was completely halting its participation in the treaty by withdrawing from a consultative group. It had already suspended its participation the treaty 2007, saying NATO's expansion plans made it impossible to realize the terms of the treaty.
The treaty was signed in 1990 to establish equal limitations on major armaments for NATO and the Warsaw Pact, a collective defense treaty between the then-Soviet Union and seven Eastern European countries. The objective of the CFE was to reduce the possibility of a surprise attack and the triggering of a major offensive in Europe.
The NATO statement on June 9 said the alliance had repeatedly called on Russia to comply with the CFE treaty, but Russia had "not engaged constructively, and has not taken steps towards full compliance."
The alliance also urged Russia to implement its commitments and obligations and to use the remaining time before its withdrawal to reconsider its decision, the statement said.
It said member states “remain united in our commitment to effective conventional arms control as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security.”
With reporting by Reuters
HRW Calls On Kyrgyz Lawmakers To Withdraw Controversial 'Foreign Agents' Bill
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Kyrgyz lawmakers to withdraw a controversial "foreign agents" bill, calling it "a highly repressive draft law" that is intended to "discredit and stigmatize" civil society groups that receive foreign funding similar to a law in Russia that has had a chilling effect on nongovernmental organizations.
“The draft law is incompatible with international human rights obligations, restricting freedom of association and expression, as well as introducing in some cases criminal liability for nongovernmental organizations and their staff members,” HRW's Central Asia researcher Syinat Sultanalieva said in the statement on June 9.
According to the bill in question, nongovernmental organizations that receive financial or other sorts of support from foreign organizations must officially register as "foreign representatives." Failure to do so will lead to a suspension of an NGOs' activities, including its banking operations, for up to 6 months or until it is registered.
"This requirement is clearly intended to discredit and stigmatize groups that receive foreign funding and could have a chilling effect on the country’s civil society at a time when it is already under attack," HRW's statement said, adding that the bill's vague and broad definition of political activity as “actions aimed at changing state policy and shaping public opinion for these purposes” poses a particular risk for civic activism in the Central Asian nation.
In addition to mandatory audits, organizations deemed foreign representatives would have to justify all expenditures to the Kyrgyz government and even consent to the presence of government officials at their events.
The draft law also prescribes punishments of up to five years in prison for representatives of NGOs that are judged to be responsible for "violence against citizens, or other harm to their health or inducing citizens to refuse to perform civil duties."
HRW called on the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations, to publicly express their concern over the bill and urge President Sadyr Japarov not to sign it into law should it pass the parliament, which may take up the bill as early as next month.
“If passed, this draft law will have a chilling effect on Kyrgyzstan’s civil society organizations, limiting their ability to advocate for human rights, provide social services, and contribute to the development of a robust and inclusive society,” Sultanalieva said.
Russia's own law on the designation of foreign agents was passed in 2012. The legislation originally targeted NGOs and rights groups but has since been expanded to target media outlets and individuals, especially journalists.
Attempts to introduce a foreign agents law in Kyrgyzstan come amid a widening crackdown on civil society in the Central Asian nation. Since coming to power in 2020, President Sadyr Japarov has also targeted his political opponents and the free media, his critics say.
More than one-third of lawmakers in the 90-seat parliament have backed a draft bill that was submitted for public consideration last month. However, some Kyrgyz lawmakers have withdrawn their support of the legislation in recent days.
Baktybek Choibekov, Emil Jamgirchiev, and Emil Toktoshev, who co-authored the bill, have announced in separate statements that they have quit the group that initiated the legislation in May, acknowledging it may damage democratic institutions and human rights in the country that once was called "the island of democracy in Central Asia."
Self-Exiled Russian Journalist Added To Wanted List On Charge Of Distributing Fakes About Military
Russia's Interior Ministry has added journalist Sergei Podsytnik to its wanted list on unspecified charges. The editor of Protokol, an online newspaper in the city of Samara, appeared in the wanted persons registry on June 9. Podsytnik's parents said earlier that their son was under investigation for the alleged distribution of false news about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Podsytnik left Russia last year. His colleagues have suggested that the charge against him stems from his report about Russian troops' shelling of the Ukrainian eastern city of Makiyivka in late December. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.
Jailed Kazakh Journalist Charged With Financing Extremism, Faces 12 Years
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Jailed Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who has been on hunger strike for 10 days to protest against his 25-day jail term, has been charged with financing an extremist group, a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeisov, told RFE/RL on June 9 that his client had already been charged with taking part in the activities of an extremist group, adding that both charges are linked to fugitive banker and outspoken Kazakh government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov and his Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement that was labeled as an extremist group in the country in March 2018.
Mukhammedkarim is currently serving a 25-day jail term on charge of violating regulations for public gatherings. He was sentenced on May 28, just two days after he had finished serving a similar sentence.
The charges stemmed from a video on Mukhammedkarim's YouTube channel that called on Kazakhs to defend their rights and his online calls for residents in the Central Asian largest city, Almaty, to rally against the government's move to introduce visa-free entrance to Kazakhstan for Chinese citizens.
Last week, Mukhammedkarim’s father, Almaz Tilepov, joined his son's hunger strike, demanding his immediate release. This week, he continued his hunger strike in front of the building of the prosecutor's office in Almaty but had to stop the hunger strike due to a medical condition.
Rights watchdogs have been criticizing the authorities of the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecution of dissent, but Astana has shrugged the criticism off, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.
Kazakhstan was ruled by authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev from its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev succeeded him in 2019.
Over the past three decades, several opposition figures have been killed and many jailed or forced to flee the country.
Toqaev, who broadened his powers after Nazarbaev and his family left the oil-rich nation's political scene following the unprecedented deadly antigovernment protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.
However, many in Kazakhstan, consider the reforms announced by Toqaev, cosmetic, as crackdown on dissent has continued even after Toqaev announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.
Ukraine's GDP Falls 10.5 Percent In First Quarter Of 2023
Ukraine's gross domestic product fell 10.5 percent in the first quarter of the year compared with the same period a year ago, the Economy Ministry said on June 9. The ministry said in a statement the fall was less than it had initially expected, indicating that the economy was adapting to events following Russia's invasion more quickly than expected. The ministry said it had initially expected GDP to fall 14.1 percent in the first quarter of 2023. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Siberian Activist Hospitalized After Falling Ill At Her Trial
A rights activist in Russia's Siberian region of Buryatia, Natalya Filonova, has been hospitalized after she fell ill during her trial on a charge of assaulting police that she and her supporters reject as politically motivated. Filonova's lawyer, Andrei Sokov, says an ambulance was called to assist his client in the courtroom on June 8. Physicians said Filonova was unable to take part in the trial as she had an extremely high pressure and needed immediate hospitalization. Filonova is accused of attacking four police officers when they dispersed a rally in September 2022 against the military mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Decision Ordering Return Of Crimean Gold Artifacts To Ukraine
The Dutch Supreme Court on June 9 upheld lower court decisions ordering the return of ancient Crimean gold artifacts to Ukraine, marking the end of a long legal process. The artifacts had been on display at the Allard Pierson Museum in the Netherlands when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Ukraine and museums in Russian-controlled Crimea had demanded their return. "This decision ends this dispute. The Allard Pierson Museum must return these artistic treasures to the State of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea," the ruling said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
U.S. Ex-General Says Russia Benefits From Dam Blast, Putin 'Likely' To Use Nuclear Weapons Rather Than Lose In Ukraine2
Destruction Of Major Dam In Ukraine Causes Massive Flooding, Raises Fears Of Environmental Disaster3
Ukrainian Military Says Forces Making Advances In Bakhmut Area4
Ukrainian Forces Storm Russian Trenches North Of Bakhmut5
Ukraine Goes On The Offensive, Trying To Turn The Tide Of Battle -- Once And For All6
'Putin Is Not In Control': Photos Show Widespread Destruction In Russia's Belgorod Region7
Russian Officer Accuses Wagner Group Of Abductions, Torture Of Russian Military Personnel8
Kremlin Says Putin Mobilization Announcement Broadcast On Radio Stations Was 'Fake'9
After The Flood: What We Know About The Destroyed Ukrainian Dam And Its Consequences10
Belarusian Tennis Star Says She Does Not Support Ukraine War Or Lukashenka