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Russia Says Warplane Hits Snake Island After Ukrainian Forces Raise Flag There

Soldiers raise a Ukrainian flag next to destroyed buildings on Snake Island in this image grab released on July 7. It was unclear when the video was filmed. 
Soldiers raise a Ukrainian flag next to destroyed buildings on Snake Island in this image grab released on July 7. It was unclear when the video was filmed. 

Russia's military said a Russian jet attacked Snake Island overnight, after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag on the strategic Black Sea outpost.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Тhe attack occurred early on July 7, “destroying” part of the Ukrainian detachment on the island, said Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

"At about 5 a.m., several Ukrainian servicemen landed on the island from a motorboat and took pictures with the flag. An aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces immediately launched a strike with high-precision missiles on Snake Island, as a result of which part of the Ukrainian military personnel was destroyed," Konashenkov said in a video.

Serhiy Bratchuk, the head of the Odesa regional administration, confirmed that the island had been attacked, though did not provide details of damage or casualties.

The tiny island has strategic importance because of its proximity to the sea lanes to Ukraine's port of Odesa. But it also has symbolic importance in the nearly five months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian forces withdrew from it on June 30 after coming under heavy bombardment from Ukrainian artillery.

On July 7, video of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island was posted to several official Telegram channels, including that of Andriy Yermak, chief of staff for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

It was unclear when the video was filmed.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, authorities again called on people in the eastern Donetsk region to flee, as Russian forces continued their slow, grinding advance that has taken more territory and taken a heavy toll on Ukrainian troops.

Ukrainian military commanders said on July 6 that they had repelled Russian advances in several locations in and around the administrative border between Luhansk and Donetsk, the two regions located in the Donbas region.

Russia earlier this week claimed control over the entire Luhansk region, after pushing Ukrainian forces out of the cities of Lysychansk and Syevyerodonetsk. Russian commanders have then pushed further west and south, advancing toward the city of Slovyansk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also declared the complete seizure of Luhansk.

However, Luhansk’s administration chief, Serhiy Hayday, denied that the Russians had completely captured the province, and he said there was heavy fighting in villages around Lysychansk.

“The Russians have paid a high price, but the Luhansk region is not fully captured by the Russian Army," Hayday said in a televised interview. “Some settlements have been overrun by each side several times.”

Ukrainian commanders claimed to have repelled Russian attacks on a town and village north of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, not far from the Russian border.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk military administration, urged the province's more than 350,000 remaining residents to flee earlier this week

In his nightly video address on July 6, Zelenskiy said that of all the battles in his country, “the most brutal confrontation” is raging in the Donbas. He also said that Western artillery and rocket systems were having a “very powerful” effect on the battlefield.

Russia's Defense Ministry also claimed that Russian rockets had destroyed two HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems that the United States had supplied to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military denied Moscow’s claims.

Russian forces made no claimed or assessed territorial gains “for the first time in 133 days of war,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

“Russian forces will likely confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings,” the institute said in its daily assessment on July 6.

With reporting by AP

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Closing Arguments Begin In Journalist Gershkovich's Trial As U.S. Calls For His Release

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared in court in Yekaterinberg on June 26
U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared in court in Yekaterinberg on June 26

Closing arguments began on July 19 in the trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been in Russian detention for more than a year on espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated.

Both his employer and the U.S. State Department on July 18 called for Gershkovich's immediate release.

The trial, which started on June 26 and is being held behind closed doors, resumed on July 18 in the Sverdlovsk regional court in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg after being moved forward from August 13 at the request of the defense team.

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, while he was on a reporting trip and was subsequently charged with attempting to obtain information about a factory that manufactures tanks for Russia's war in Ukraine and pass it on to the CIA. He is the first U.S. journalist arrested on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War.

The 32-year-old American-born son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, an outcome that is all but certain.

The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have firmly rejected the espionage charges, saying Gershkovich was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

The Journal said in a statement on June 18 that Gershkovich had been unjustly arrested 477 days ago.

"Even as Russia orchestrates its shameful sham trial, we continue to do everything we can to push for Evan's immediate release," the newspaper said in a statement.

According to a court spokeswoman quoted by the Journal, the court would hear “oral arguments” from both sides on July 19 before Gershkovich will deliver a “final statement” and the court will deliberate before reaching a verdict. The spokeswoman did not give a time frame for the next moves.

But the fast pace of the procedures is likely to give room to speculations about a possible prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel on July 18 did not comment on possible negotiations on a prisoner exchange, but said Washington was seeking the release of Gershkovich and another imprisoned U.S. citizen, former Marine Paul Whelan, as soon as possible.

"The timeline of the trial and what route that takes does not have a bearing and has no impact on the urgency that the United States has.... We want both of them home immediately and we'll continue to work in this area until they're reunited with their loved ones," Patel said.

He said no U.S. Embassy representative was able to attend the July 18 session due to short notice.

Russia has complained about U.S. media reports on a possible swap involving Gershkovich. Speaking on July 17 at the United Nations in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again raised this reporting, blaming "the Americans" for publicly bringing up a possible exchange, which he said "isn't helping."

Lavrov told a news conference that confidential negotiations were still "ongoing." Russia has previously signaled the possibility of a swap, but it says a verdict would have to come first.

According to the original Russian version of Lavrov's comments released in a video by the Russian Foreign Ministry, he said "the Americans," while the UN simultaneous translation quoted him as saying "American journalists."

On July 18, the court heard testimony behind closed doors. Local Russian news outlet Vechernie Vedemosti published a photo of local pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Vegner outside the courtroom and said he had taken the witness stand.

Vegner told Vechernie Vedemosti he had been interviewed by Gershkovich regarding Russia's war in Ukraine, the Wagner mercenary group, and Sverdlovsk's industrial enterprises.

Gershkovich's appeals for release from Moscow's infamous Lefortovo Prison, where he has been held since his arrest, have been rejected.

His arrest came about a year after Russia adopted new laws criminalizing criticism of Moscow's war on Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation,” and statements deemed to have discredited the military.

Gershkovich and Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence also on espionage charges, have been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation ensures that the case is assigned to the office of the special envoy for hostage affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of their situation and allowing the U.S. administration to allocate more resources to securing the prisoner's release.

Gershkovich is one of two American reporters currently being held by Russian authorities. The other is Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship.

Russian Court Again Extends Detention Of RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva
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Kurmasheva, 47, was arrested in Kazan in October and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are reprisals for her work as a journalist for the broadcaster in Prague.

Unlike Gershkovich and Whelan, Kurmasheva has not been designated as " wrongfully detained," despite repeated calls by her employer and family for this to happen.

Another U.S.-Russian citizen, Ksenia Karelina, went on trial in Yekaterinburg in June on a treason charge.

Karelina, 33, was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of raising funds for Razom for Ukraine, a foundation that helps Ukrainian civilians affected by the war.

1 Killed, Several Wounded In Fresh Russian Attacks On Ukraine Regions

Burned-out cars in the town of Chuhuyiv following a Russian strike on the Ukrainian town on July 19.
Burned-out cars in the town of Chuhuyiv following a Russian strike on the Ukrainian town on July 19.

Russian shelling from across the Dnieper River early on July 19 killed an elderly woman in the settlement of Bilozerka, in Ukraine's Kherson region, regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram. A Russian strike on the town of Chuhuyiv in the northeastern Kharkiv region wounded at least seven people, regional head Oleh Synyehubov reported. In the Sumy region close to the border with Russia, at least one civilian was wounded by Russian shelling, regional officials reported. Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its air defense systems had downed 19 Ukrainian drones over the Kursk and Belgorod regions, as well as occupied Crimea. To ready the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Trump Vows To End Wars, Free 'Hostages,' In Acceptance Speech 

Former U.S. President and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raises a fist next to his wife, Melania, during the last day of the 2024 Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on July 18.
Former U.S. President and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raises a fist next to his wife, Melania, during the last day of the 2024 Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on July 18.

Donald Trump vowed to end the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and free U.S. 'hostages' as he accepted the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention just days after an attempt on his life.

The 78-year-old Trump, wearing a bandage on his right ear injured in what the FBI says was an assassination attempt on the former president, also promised to revive a Cold War-era missile defense plan as he warned that the world was “teetering” on the brink of a third world war.

“War is now raging in Europe and the Middle East. This administration can’t come close to solving the problems,” Trump said in a 92 minute speech that closed out the four-day convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a key swing state in the November 5 election.

Trump blamed the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan under President Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent in the 2024, for emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.

The Republican nominee boasted that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban even said that Russia and China were “afraid of him.” Orban flew to Florida to meet Trump on July 11 to discuss an end to the war in Ukraine following visits to Moscow and Beijing.

Trump said he would also free U.S. “hostages” without giving any details as to who and how.

The comments appeared to be a reference to the dozens of Americans “unlawfully detained” abroad, several of whom are in Russia, including Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship and is being held on charges the broadcaster and the U.S. government say are reprisals for her work as a journalist for the broadcaster in Prague.

The Biden administration has freed many over the past three years through prisoner swaps and other means.

Trump noted that Russian nuclear submarines were stationed off Cuba, which lies 145 kilometers from Florida, before announcing that, if elected, he would revive former President Ronald Reagan’s plans to develop a space-based missile defense system to protect the United States from long-range nuclear missiles.

Trump claimed that technological advances made the project feasible. The U.S. abandoned the plan, nicknamed "Star Wars" by Reagan’s opponents, in the 1990s as the Cold War ended and relations with Moscow improved.

Trump’s nomination caps a remarkable political comeback for the former president, who was impeached twice while in office, convicted earlier this year of falsifying business records, and faces charges in three other cases, including conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. One of the cases involving Trump's handling of classified documents was recently dismissed but prosecutors have appealed.

Trump’s spectacular political return and rebound from the assassination attempt comes as Biden, knocked off the campaign trail by COVID-19, faces rising calls from his own party to withdraw from the race.

Trump mentioned Biden only once in his speech amid news reports that the president could drop out of the race as early as this weekend.

Biden beat Trump in 2020 but there is growing fear in the Democratic party that the president can not repeat that feat after his poor performance in a June 27 debate.

The 81-year-old Biden looked frail and confused and was incoherent at times during the debate against Trump, intensifying concerns about his physical and mental ability to serve another four years. In the weeks following the debate, Biden rejected calls to leave the race, saying he can recover from the debate debacle and beat Trump.

However, leading Democrats have only stepped up their pressure. On the eve of Trump’s speech, Adam Schiff (Democrat-California) called on the president to step aside, the most prominent lawmaker to publicly voice for change to the party ticket. Other powerful party members have this month privately urged Biden to leave the race, according to Axios.

The Democrats will hold their convention in Chicago, Illinois on August 19-22.

The July 13 assassination attempt played a prominent role at the convention as Republicans leverage it to portray Trump as a “fighter” who was saved by “divine intervention.”

Trump began his speech by recounting the shooting in Butler, Pennsylvania, where he was speaking to supporters at a rally when the assassin's bullet whizzed by his head, grazing his ear.

“I am not supposed to be here tonight,” he said as the now iconic images of a blood stained Trump standing with his fist raised in the air and surrounded by a Secret Service detail flashed on the convention screens.

Trump, who has given opponents derogatory nicknames throughout his political career, used his speech to call for less devisive language and more “unity.”

However, he then accused the Democrats of “weaponizing the justice system” to go after him and his family.

During the speech, Trump also promised to curtail immigration, end electric vehicle mandates, increase U.S. oil and gas production, and cut taxes.

North Korea's Kim Discusses Military Cooperation With Russian Official

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksei Krivoruchko (file photo)
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksei Krivoruchko (file photo)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksei Krivoruchko and discussed the importance of the two countries' militaries uniting more firmly, North Korean state media said on July 19. Kim and Krivoruchko shared the need for military cooperation between the two countries to defend mutual security interests, the Korean Central News Agency said. Krivoruchko conveyed greetings from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kim, who expressed deep thanks in the meeting, held on July 18. The report did not provide any other details of Krivoruchko's delegation or the purpose of the visit to North Korea. The United States and its allies have accused North Korea of supplying Russia with arms, including ballistic missiles to use in Ukraine, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Ukraine Signs Security Agreements With Slovenia, Czech Republic

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gives a speech at the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, on July 18.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gives a speech at the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, on July 18.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob on July 18 signed an agreement on security cooperation and long-term support between their two countries. Slovenia has already provided Ukraine with 13 packages of military aid and intends to maintain this level of support throughout the 10 years of the agreement, which includes millions of euros for humanitarian aid and economic recovery, Golob's office said. Zelenskiy, who is in Britain for a gathering of European leaders, signed a separate security agreement with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala. Zelenskiy's office said a significant part of the agreement is devoted to enhanced cooperation in the military-technical sphere, including the possibility of producing light weapons, drones, electronics, and heavy equipment. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

EU, U.S. React To Serbia Banning Entry To Certain Foreign Nationals  

Bosnian Nedim Music (left) has supported protests against lithium mining in Serbia and the so-called Jadar project of the company Rio Tinto backed by the Serbian government.
Bosnian Nedim Music (left) has supported protests against lithium mining in Serbia and the so-called Jadar project of the company Rio Tinto backed by the Serbian government.

The European Union and the United States have called on Belgrade to adhere to democratic principles and human rights standards in response to Serbia's decision to ban certain foreign citizens from entry.

In the past year, Serbia has banned the entry of certain foreign activists, artists, and journalists who Belgrade says are a threat to state security.

Those affected are often from the region, as well as Russian anti-war activists and journalists who publicly criticize the Serbian and Russian authorities.

The most recent case occurred on July 12, when Serbian border police banned Bosnian Nedim Music from entering the country. Music previously supported protests against lithium mining in Serbia and the so-called Jadar project of the company Rio Tinto backed by the Serbian government.

The U.S. State Department on July 18 said that it was aware of Serbia's decisions to ban certain foreign activists.

"Taking into account its status as a candidate country for EU membership and a valued partner in maintaining peace and security throughout the region, we call on Serbia to support the rule of law and the highest democratic standards in these and all other law enforcement actions," the State Department said in an e-mail to RFE/RL.

Serbia became a candidate for EU membership in 2012.

EU spokesman Peter Santo told RFE/RL in an e-mail that the EU was also aware of decisions to ban the entry of various foreign nationals into Serbia but Brussels did not have access to detailed information about the decisions.

Santo said although the state had the right to restrict foreign nationals' access to its territory, it is important that the restrictions are "in accordance with European and international standards on human rights."

Santo said the restrictions "should not result in limiting the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful gathering of foreign citizens."

Decisions on "negative security-risk assessments" are carried out by the Serbian Security and Information Agency.

The Serbian law on foreigners states such security risks exist "if the available data and knowledge indicate that a foreigner advocates, incites, helps, prepares, or undertakes activities that threaten the constitutional order and security of Serbia."

Among those who were recently denied entry into Serbia due to a "negative security-risk assessment" is Bosnian actor and writer Fedja Stukan, known for his participation in mass anti-violence civil protests, and Current Time journalist Roman Perl, who was recently declared a "foreign agent" by Moscow.

Russia Adds Carnegie Endowment To 'Undesirable' List

 The building of the Russian Justice Ministry in Moscow
The building of the Russian Justice Ministry in Moscow

The Russian Justice Ministry on July 18 added the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to its list of "undesirable organizations." The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office declared the Carnegie Endowment "undesirable" on July 1. Also on July 18, the Justice Ministry added The Moscow Times newspaper in English and Russian based in the Netherlands to the list of "undesirable organizations." It was previously declared as such on July 10. The "undesirable organization" law, adopted in 2015, targets NGOs and media outlets that receive funding from foreign sources. Russian officials have used the designation, which was expanded in 2021, to marginalize dozens of foreign organizations. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Tajik Lawyer, Politician Hakimov Detained, Sources Say

Shokirjon Hakimov (file photo)
Shokirjon Hakimov (file photo)

Sources close to Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL on July 18 that noted Tajik lawyer and First Deputy Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan Shakirjon Hakimov was detained last week. According to the sources, Hakimov's detention was linked to the arrest of former lawmaker and ex-leader of the Democratic Party Saidjafar Usmonzoda on June 14 for allegedly "plotting to overthrow the government." In the 2013 presidential election, Usmonzoda ran against Emomali Rahmon, the longtime president who has since consolidated his grip on power. There has been no official announcement about Hakimov's detention. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Russian Court Jails U.S. Citizen For 13 Years On Drug Charges

Michael Leake appears in court in Moscow in a photo issued on July 18.
Michael Leake appears in court in Moscow in a photo issued on July 18.

A Moscow court on July 18 sentenced U.S. citizen Michale Travis Leake to 13 years in prison on drug charges, the press service of Moscow courts of common jurisdiction said. Leake's co-defendant, a Russian woman, Veronika Garabanchuk, was sentenced to eight years in prison. More than 10 U.S. citizens are being held in Russian jails and prisons, accused or convicted on charges ranging from drug possession and theft to treason and espionage, amid accusations Moscow is using trumped-up charges to detain foreigners to use as currency in prisoner exchanges. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ex-Journalist To Run in Moldova's Presidential Election

Natalia Morari announced she will run in Moldova's presidential election in October.
Natalia Morari announced she will run in Moldova's presidential election in October.

Former journalist Natalia Morari on July 18 said she would run as an independent candidate in Moldova's presidential election in October. Morari, who studied in Moscow, came to public attention when she was banned from entering Russia after publishing a series of reports in 2007 that purported to detail the use of secret funds by the Kremlin to bribe political parties. Morari, 40, was fired from her last job at Moldovan television TV8 in 2021 after it was revealed that she had been in a relationship with fugitive tycoon Veaceslav Platon when she interviewed him in prison. Morari has also previously contributed to RFE/RL's Moldovan Service. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

Romanian Member Escorted Out Of European Parliament For Heckling

Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca (center) wears a muzzle surrounded by bailiffs as she is escorted out of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on July 18.
Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca (center) wears a muzzle surrounded by bailiffs as she is escorted out of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on July 18.

A Romanian far-right member of the new European Parliament has been escorted out of the Strasbourg chamber after repeatedly heckling member Valerie Hayer during a debate following European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's speech. Diana Iovanovici-Sosoaca waved a black garbage bag, shouting, "You kill Romanians!" and placed a dog's muzzle on her face while being escorted out of the chamber. Iovanovici-Sosoaca won a seat in Romania's parliament in 2020 as a member of the far-right Alliance for the Unification of Romania (AUR) party, but has since been expelled and formed her own Russian-friendly group, SOS Romania, which propelled her into the new European Parliament in last month’s elections. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, click here.

Flooding In Belarusian Capital Disrupts Transport Links

(file photo)
(file photo)

Floods caused by heavy rain on July 18 disrupted 46 public transportation routes in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The Emergencies Ministry said two subway stations were briefly shut down as floods affected 38 segments of streets, one parking site, one building, and two underpasses in the city. Rescue teams are working to pump out the water from the affected sites. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Kazakh Journalist On Trial For 'Extremism' Hospitalized

Duman Muhametkarim was arrested in June 2023 over an online interview he did with a fugitive banker and outspoken government critic. (file photo)
Duman Muhametkarim was arrested in June 2023 over an online interview he did with a fugitive banker and outspoken government critic. (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Independent Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim, who is on trial for what he says are politically motivated charges of financing an extremist group and participating in a banned group's activities, has been hospitalized in the southern town of Qonaev.

"Due to the ongoing stress and several longtime hunger strikes, Duman's health has dramatically deteriorated. He has problems with his kidneys and stomach, a disc protrusion," Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeisov, told RFE/RL on July 18.

Nurpeisov added that his client was unable to be in a sitting position for longer than two or three hours at a time due to back pain.

Mukhammedkarim, whose Ne Deidi? (What Do They Say?) YouTube channel is extremely popular in Kazakhstan, was sent to pretrial detention in June 2023 over an online interview he did with the fugitive banker and outspoken government critic, Mukhtar Ablyazov.

Ablyazov's Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement was declared extremist and banned in the country in March 2018. As Mukhammedkarim's trial started on February 12, he complained of being beaten by jail guards, prompting prosecutors to launch an investigation into the matter.

Mukhammedkarim's trial was then postponed until an unspecified date to allow for the investigation, which was shut down later due to a "lack of evidence."

The trial resumed after that.

If convicted, Mukhammedkarim could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.

Domestic and international right organizations have urged the Kazakh authorities to drop all charges against Mukhammedkarim and immediately release him. Kazakh rights defenders have recognized Mukhammedkarim as a political prisoner.

Rights watchdogs have criticized the authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic for persecuting dissent, but Astana has shrugged off the criticism, saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Nurpesiov thanked rights groups and activists who helped persuade officials to hospitalize Mukhammedkarim, raising awareness about his health.

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 country's political scene following the deadly, unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022, has promised political reforms and more freedoms for citizens.

However, many in Kazakhstan describe the reforms announced by Toqaev as cosmetic, and a crackdown on dissent has continued even after the president announced his "New Kazakhstan" program.

Von Der Leyen Wins New 5-Year Term As European Commission President

Ursula von der Leyen celebrates the vote.
Ursula von der Leyen celebrates the vote.

The European Parliament on July 18 reelected Ursula von der Leyen to a second five-year term as president of the European Union’s executive commission. “5 more years. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for the trust of all MEPs that voted for me,” she said in a post on X after winning the vote with a comfortable majority. Von der Leyen's win is seen as ensuring continuity in major policy areas for the 27-nation bloc, including the war in Ukraine, climate change, and migration. To read the European Parliament's announcement on the vote, click here.

Updated

In U.K. For European Summit, Zelenskiy Urges Unity After Orban 'Peace Mission'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) meets British Prime Minister Keir Starmer as they attend the European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace on July 18.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) meets British Prime Minister Keir Starmer as they attend the European Political Community meeting at Blenheim Palace on July 18.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has rejected talk of making a deal with Russia without Kyiv's approval after Hungarian Prime Minister met with President Vladimir Putin as Ukraine's embattled troops continue to suffer from inadequate defenses in the face of a Russian onslaught in the east.

Zelenskiy arrived on July 18 in central England for the European Political Community (EPC) summit at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The Ukrainian leader wasted little time in calling on those in attendance "to maintain unity in Europe because always this unity leads to strong decisions."

Zelenskiy's comments come after Orban -- who is also at the summit -- embarked on what he called a "peace mission," during which he made stops in Moscow, Kyiv, Beijing, and at the Florida residence of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The global tour rankled most European leaders, who have repeatedly distanced themselves from Orban's trip, while the Hungarian leader himself has acknowledged that he has no authority to act on the behalf of other EU members, even though Hungary currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

"If someone in Europe tries to resolve issues behind others' backs or even at the expense of someone else, if someone wants to make some trips to the capital of war to talk and perhaps promise something against our common interests or at the expense of Ukraine or other countries, then why should we consider such a person?" Zelenskiy said at the summit on July 18.

"The EU and NATO can also address all their issues without this one individual."

Orban on July 18 released a letter he wrote to the heads of EU countries in which he said the warring parties were unlikely to search for a way out of the conflict without significant external involvement from the European Union, the United States, and China. But he said the EU "has copied the pro-war policy of the U.S.," and should break with Washington and pursue efforts for a cease-fire.

The letter, which had been leaked to the media earlier this week, also said Trump was ready to act "immediately" as a peace broker if he beats incumbent Joe Biden in the November 5 vote.

Trump has suggested that if he wins the U.S. presidential election in November he will resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict in one day. He has not elaborated on how he would accomplish such a feat, but many European leaders have said they fear the former president would agree with Putin on a peace plan without consulting with Kyiv.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Western help for Ukraine must be a joint effort between North America and Europe.

"European allies and Canada can of course do more, but it's extremely important that the United States continues to provide support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg told AFP on the sidelines of the summit. "The United States is by far the biggest ally. So, I expect them to continue to support Ukraine."

At the summit, Zelenskiy called for Western allies to lift the restrictions on long-range strikes into Russia, particularly military airfields, and for Western allies' air defenses to protect Ukraine as they protected Israel in April when it was hit with a barrage of Iranian missiles and drones.

Zelenskiy mentioned France, Britain, and the United States -- countries that provided air-defense systems and fighter jets that helped shoot down over 300 Iranian missiles and drones in Israeli airspace.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the requests and said they were "out of the question."

Zelenskiy said in a post on social media that Ukraine will sign an intergovernmental agreement on support for the Ukrainian defense and industrial complex, discuss future defense cooperation, and expand Kyiv's defense capabilities while at the summit. He gave no details.

Keir Starmer, the first Labour Party prime minister in 14 years, has signaled that his government will continue London's policy of robust military and diplomatic support for Ukraine in its ongoing war to defeat Russian invaders.

The summit comes amid reports of difficulties faced by Ukrainian defenders on the eastern and southeastern front, mainly in the area of the Dnieper River northeast of Kherson city, where Kyiv had managed to establish a fragile bridgehead on the eastern bank of the river late last year.

Flags, Tears, And Kneeling As Ukrainian Soldiers Return From Russian Captivity
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Ukrainian troops liberated Kherson, which lies on the western banks of the Dnieper, in November 2022, pushing Russian forces across the Dnieper, but the city continues to be targeted by enemy fire.

Ukrainian media in recent days reported that Krynky, a small town on the eastern bank of the Dnieper where Ukrainian marines and paratroopers landed in November 2023, had been abandoned after Kyiv suffered serious casualties.

But Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesman for Ukraine's Tavria group of troops, brushed aside a report by the Slidstvo.info publication, which on July 17 wrote that 788 Ukrainian soldiers have been missing in action since November, while the bodies of only 262 fallen troops could be recovered and transported across the river on the side controlled by Ukraine.

"The situation is not as critical as some media and bloggers interpret it. In this regard, our key message is, the defense forces of Ukraine continue to carry out combat missions on the left bank of the Dnieper. In particular, in the area of the settlement of Krynky," Lykhoviy said on state television.

"However, it is true that most of the main positions of Ukrainian troops in this village have been completely destroyed as a result of intense, combined, long-term enemy fire," he added.

Moscow had claimed in February that its troops had already pushed back Ukrainian forces from Krynky.

Neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian claims could be independently confirmed.

Separately, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its air and naval defenses on July 18 repelled a combined attack of Ukrainian air and naval drones that targeted occupied Crimea.

In a message on Telegram, the ministry said that air defenses shot down 33 drones over Crimea and two over the Bryansk region.

The Russian Navy, meanwhile, said it destroyed 10 Ukrainian naval drones that were heading in the direction of the Crimean Peninsula. Separately, Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed head of Sevastopol, Crimea's largest port, said a naval drone heading for the port was destroyed.

Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claims.

In Kyiv, the Ukrainian Air Force said its air defenses shot down all 16 drones and two out of three cruise missiles that Russia had launched at targets in the Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Zaporizhzhya, Kyiv, and Kharkiv regions.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Supporter Of Imprisoned Bashkir Activist Gets 5 Years In Prison

Ilshat Ulyabayev
Ilshat Ulyabayev

A Russian court on July 18 sentenced Ilshat Ulyabayev -- a supporter of imprisoned Bashkir activist Fail Alsynov -- to five years in prison on charges of participating in mass unrest and attacking a police officer. Ulyabayev pleaded guilty. The 50-year-old is the first person sentenced in the high-profile case. Alsynov was sentenced to four years in prison in January on a charge of inciting hatred that he and his supporters call politically motivated. Thousands of Alsynov's supporters rallied before and after his sentence was handed down in Bashkortostan and clashed with police protesting the sentence. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

University Student In Siberia Gets 9 Years For Sending Medicines To Syria

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on July 18 that a court in the Siberian region of Altai Krai sentenced a 20-year-old university student to nine years in prison for sending a parcel with medicines to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria. According to the FSB, the man, whose identity was not disclosed, established a connection with the IS and sent a parcel with sedatives, painkillers, and styptic agents, which slow bleeding, to the group in Syria via Turkey. The parcel was intercepted by the FSB. The man was found guilty of "supporting a terrorist organization." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Russia Adds Journalist Prokopyeva To Wanted List

Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva (file photo)
Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva (file photo)

The Russian Interior Ministry on July 18 added journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva to its wanted list on unspecified charges. Prokopyeva left Russia for Latvia in March 2022 after police brutally forced her to a police station and questioned her in a case of allegedly spreading lies about the regional governor of Pskov. In September, a Russian court convicted Prokopyeva in absentia of discrediting Russia's military over an interview with historian Vasily Zharkov and fined her 35,000 rubles ($395). On July 17, the Interior Ministry added two other journalists in exile -- Andrei Zakharov and Dmitry Fomintsev -- to its wanted list. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Former Moscow Official Aleksandr Kibovsky Arrested On Corruption Charges

Aleksandr Kibovsky
Aleksandr Kibovsky

A Moscow court late on July 17 sent Aleksandr Kibovsky, a former member of the Moscow municipal government, to pretrial detention for at least two months on charges of fraud and bribe-taking. Investigators allege Kibovsky accepted more than 100 million rubles ($1.1 million) in bribes while serving as the chief of Moscow's Culture Department between 2015 and 2023. Kibovsky pleaded not guilty and asked to be spared pretrial detention, saying he did not plan to flee and that he is willing to join Russian military forces invading Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Man Gets 3 Years In Prison In U.S. For Smuggling Military Technology

The U.S. Justice Department said on July 17 that a 52-year-old Russian man was sentenced to three years in prison for smuggling large quantities of American-made, military-grade microelectronics to Russia. Maksim Marchenko, who was arrested in September, pleaded guilty in a New York court in February to one count of money laundering and one count of smuggling goods from the United States. He and two other Russians were accused of using shell companies to conceal the fraudulent procurement of microelectronics. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Kazakh Activist On Trial For 2021 Online Talk With Opposition Figure

Nurlybai Tataev
Nurlybai Tataev

Kazakh opposition activist Nurlybai Tataev went on trial in Kazakhstan's southern city of Turkistan on July 17 over an online conversation with the self-exiled leader of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement, Mukhtar Ablyazov, in 2021. Tataev is charged with taking part in a banned group's activities. His lawyers insist that the charge is illegitimate, citing the statute of limitations. The DVK was banned in Kazakhstan in 2018. Many activists across the Central Asian nation have been handed prison terms or parole-like restricted freedom sentences in recent years for their involvement in DVK activities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

EU Chief Slams Hungary's Orban For Rogue 'Appeasement Mission' To Moscow

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on July 18 savaged a rogue diplomatic trip made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to Moscow to discuss ways for ending the war in Ukraine, calling it an "appeasement mission." "This so-called peace mission was nothing but an appeasement mission -- this was a plain appeasement mission," she told the European Parliament in a sharp rebuke for Orban, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. "Russia is banking on Europe and the West going soft, and some in Europe are playing along," said von der Leyen.

Updated

Serbian Police Officer Shot Dead Near Bosnian Border

Police close the road to Lipnicki Sor in Loznica on July 18.
Police close the road to Lipnicki Sor in Loznica on July 18.

Serbian police are searching for a suspect in connection with the July 18 shooting death of a police officer and the wounding of another in western Serbia near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement the attack in Loznica was "organized" and that the Serbian Prosecutor-General's Office "will consider this case a terrorist attack."

According to the Interior Ministry, police stopped two people in the middle of the night driving a Mercedes car with Serbian license plates. While exiting the vehicle, one person fired a pistol, hitting officer Nikola Krsmanovic in the chest and officer Vjekoslav Ilic in the shoulder.

Krsmanovic died in the hospital in Loznica, where Ilic is being treated for gunshot wounds and is in stable condition.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sent his condolences to Krsmanovic's family for the "insidious attack" and said, "Serbia will never forget his sacrifice and selfless devotion to duty."

Dacic said 150 members of the police force were searching for the shooter. This includes members of the gendarmerie, a helicopter unit, a special anti-terrorist unit, border and criminal police, and the Sabac police department.

Serbian police are also working with Bosnian police in the Republika Srpska in case the suspect fled across the border.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic (file photo)
Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic (file photo)


Dacic said that in cooperation with the Bosnian Serb police, a man with the initials Z.R. was arrested for allegedly driving the shooter from Presevo to Loznica on the Bosnian border. Z.R.'s wife was arrested in Serbia on suspicion of being an accomplice, an Interior Ministry press release said.

Dacic previously said Serbian police arrested Mithat Hadzic on suspicion of driving the attacker's car and said the shooter himself was still at large.

Although the identity of the suspect is not confirmed, police are searching for Artan Hajrizi, whose Kosovo-issued passport and German identity card were found at the scene.

Hajrizi, who told the Insajderi newspaper he had met with the police in Germany, said his brother Faton Hajrizi stole his identification documents.

Faton Hajrizi previously escaped prison in Kosovo, where he was convicted of several offenses, including the killing of a Russian soldier when he was 15 years old.

Dacic said that "it is possible that this is a false identity," but also said Artan Hajrizi was engaging in a "classic lie."

"Artan Hajrizi, today at 11:55 a.m., declared to the Hanover police that yesterday his brother Fatoni stole the personal documents in his apartment in Hanover," Dacic said.

"According to what logic does a person from Hanover return illegally to Presevo and try to go again illegally to Germany? This clearly shows that it was agreed earlier and that it is an organized act," Dacic said.

Dacic called on German police to "urgently answer" how Hajrizi's documents got from Germany to Serbia.

Assistant Police Director Dragan Vasiljevic said Belgrade had contacted the German police through Interpol. Vasiljevic added that Croatian and Kosovar representatives were working with the Serbian police.

Police continue to search around the Drina River with helicopters, drones, and thermal imaging devices in an operation that Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti asked "not be politicized" at a press conference.

Kurti said Kosovar authorities will investigate the case but asked that the issue be treated "from the point of view of security -- legal and professional."

Dacic said he asked for and expects "full cooperation with the German police and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo and not lies that no one believes."

Updated

Russian Trial Of U.S. Journalist Gershkovich Moves To Closing Arguments

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich appears in court in Yekaterinberg on June 26
U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich appears in court in Yekaterinberg on June 26

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been in Russian detention for more than a year on espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated, will move to closing arguments on July 19 in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

The Sverdlovsk regional court in Yekaterinburg announced on July 18 the beginning of the second hearing in Gershkovich's trial.

On July 18, the court heard testimony behind closed doors. Local Russian news outlet Vechernie Vedemosti published a photo of local pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Vegner outside the courtroom and said he had taken the witness stand.

Vegner told Vechernie Vedemosti he had been interviewed by Gershkovich regarding the Russia's war in Ukraine, the Wagner mercenary group, and Sverdlovsk's industrial enterprises.

Earlier this week, the court said the resumption of Gershkovich's trial had been moved forward from August 13 to July 18 at the request of the defense team, whose arguments for moving up the date of the hearing were not disclosed.

The trial started on June 26 and is being held behind closed doors.

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, while he was on a reporting trip and was subsequently charged with trying to obtain military secrets to pass on to the CIA. He is the first U.S. journalist arrested on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War.

Gershkovich, the 32-year-old American-born son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, an outcome that is all but certain.

The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have firmly rejected the espionage charges, saying Gershkovich was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

After the opening hearing of the trial, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement on June 26 that Russian authorities failed to provide any evidence to back up the charges and called for Gershkovich's immediate release. It also demanded that Moscow stop using U.S. nationals as leverage for political ends.

Gershkovich's appeals for release from Moscow's infamous Lefortovo Prison, where he has been held since his arrest, have been rejected.

His arrest came about a year after the Russia adopted new laws criminalizing criticism of the Russian war on Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation,” and statements deemed as discrediting the military.

Gershkovich and another U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence also on espionage charges, have been designated by the U.S. government as "wrongfully detained."

Such a designation ensures that the case is assigned to the office of the special envoy for hostage affairs in the U.S. State Department, raising the political profile of their situation and allowing the U.S. administration to allocate more resources to securing the prisoner's release.

Russia has complained about U.S. media reports on a possible swap involving Gershkovich. Speaking on July 17 at the United Nations in New York, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again raised this reporting, blaming "the Americans" for publicly bringing up a possible exchange, which he said "isn't helping."

Lavrov told a news conference that confidential negotiations were still "ongoing." Russia has previously signaled the possibility of a swap, but it says a verdict would have to come first.

According to the original Russian version of Lavrov's comments released in a video by the Russian Foreign Ministry, he said "the Americans," while the UN simultaneous translation quoted him as saying "American journalists."

Gershkovich is one of two American reporters currently being held by Russian authorities. The other is Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran RFE/RL journalist who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship.

Kurmasheva, 47, was arrested in Kazan in October and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent" under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are reprisals for her work as a journalist for the broadcaster in Prague.

Unlike Gershkovich and Whelan, Kurmasheva has not been designated as " wrongfully detained," despite repeated calls by her employer and family for this to happen.

Another U.S.-Russian citizen, Ksenia Karelina, went on trial in Yekaterinburg in June on a treason charge.

Karelina, 33, was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of raising funds for a Ukrainian foundation that allegedly supplied weapons to Ukraine.

The Razom For Ukraine foundation helps Ukrainian civilians affected by the war.

Police Summon Women Who Appeared In Video Without Hijabs During Ashura Procession In Iranian City

Iranian Police Question Women Who Marched In Religious Festival Without Head Scarves
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The chief of police in Iran's Alborz Province said on July 17 that women who took part in an Ashura procession in the city of Karaj without hijabs have been "identified and summoned."

A video posted on Instagram shows a number of young women, most wearing dark clothing but no head scarves, walking in the street in observance of Ashura, a commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, which is marked mainly by Shi'ite Muslims.

To mourn his death, Shi’a wear black during Ashura processions in which many participants beat their backs with chains in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his death.

The video of the procession in Karaj on July 16 has been met with widespread reactions on social media.

Hamid Hadavand, the chief of police in Alborz Province, claimed that the publication of the video and others like it had led to "hurting the feelings of Hossein's mourners" throughout the country.

Hadavand accused the individuals seen in the videos of "desecration," adding that all of them "have been summoned to the Alborz Province police after being identified."

He did not say how many people were summoned or how they were identified.

In addition, the head of the Organization of Religious Boards and Organizations revoked the permission granted to the organization that held the Ashura procession in which the young women took part without hijabs.

Majid Babakhani also announced that the head of the organization had been "summoned" with the help of the police and said that he would be dealt with legally.

Ashura is marked on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar. Last year Muharram was also marked by reports of the identification and detention of women without compulsory hijabs across Iran.

Authorities have stepped up confrontations with people who oppose the mandatory hijab law since protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police in September 2022 for allegedly improperly wearing her hijab, and there have been frequent reports of violence against detainees.

In recent months, the police again started a security crackdown on women flaunting the compulsory hijab law by reimplementing the Plan Noor initiative under which the morality police strictly enforce dress codes. This has led to several incidents of violence against women challenging the mandatory head scarf.

Before the reimplementation of the Plan Noor initiative the city of Tehran and the Interior Ministry prior employed hijab guards in some subway stations. The interior minister and the mayor of Tehran denied playing any role in this.

Despite these measures, the presence of women and girls without compulsory hijabs in public in Iran has not stopped over the past two years.

Iran is set to swear in moderate reformist Masud Pezeshkian as president early next month. Pezeshkian has said that while the hijab law should be observed, "there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behavior toward women."

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