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U.S., U.K. Impose New Sanctions Against Russian Hacking Group

British officials said the Trickbot gang had extorted at least $180 million from people across the globe, while Washington said the Trickbot group had ties to Russian intelligence.
British officials said the Trickbot gang had extorted at least $180 million from people across the globe, while Washington said the Trickbot group had ties to Russian intelligence.

The United States and Britain have expanded sanctions on members of a Russian hacking gang known as Trickbot, targeting people involved in management and procurement for the group.

The action adds nearly a dozen people to the sanctions list, the U.S. Treasury Department and the British Foreign Office said on September 7.

The two countries previously imposed sanctions against seven members of Trickbot, noting the group's role in targeting hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the U.S. government and companies.

British officials said the Trickbot gang had extorted at least $180 million from people across the globe, while Washington said the Trickbot group had ties to Russian intelligence.

The Treasury Department said the action targeted "key actors involved in management and procurement for the Trickbot group," including administrators, managers, developers, and coders who have assisted Trickbot in its operations.

Undersecretary Brian Nelson said the United States "is resolute in our efforts to combat ransomware and respond to disruptions of our critical infrastructure."

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the move was an attempt to disrupt the group's business model and strip its anonymity.

"These cybercriminals thrive off anonymity, moving in the shadows of the Internet to cause maximum damage and extort money from their victims," Cleverly said in a statement. "We know who they are and what they are doing."

The sanctions are also intended to make it harder for the hackers to launder money.

Trickbot draws its name from a suite of malware tools that the gang members use to hack and extort their victims. The rogue program, whose roots stretch back at least a decade, has been used to infect millions of computers worldwide, the Treasury said.

The U.S. Justice Department also planned to indict nine individuals tied to the gang, British and U.S. officials said.

A federal indictment unsealed on September 6 showed that at least four alleged members of the group -- Maksim Galochkin, Maksim Rudensky, Mikhail Tsarev, and Andrei Zhuikov -- were being charged in Tennessee with conspiring to use ransomware.

In addition to those four, the U.S. Treasury Department named seven other men designated for sanctions: Mikhail Chernov, Maksim Khaliullin, Artem Kurov, Sergei Loguntsov, Aleksandr Mozhayev, Dmitry Putilin, and Vadim Valyakhmetov.

While sanctions freeze any assets the individuals hold in U.S. jurisdiction and block people in the United States from having any dealings with the targets, they tend to be largely symbolic.

With reporting by Reuters

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Plane Crash Kills 2 Pilots In Armenia

Both pilots on board the biplane died in the crash on July 19.
Both pilots on board the biplane died in the crash on July 19.

Armenia's Interior Ministry said on July 19 that an An-2 single-engine biplane belonging to the Defense Ministry crashed near the town of Eghvard, close to Yerevan, killing two pilots on board. Sources told RFE/RL that the plane was a training aircraft. The Defense Ministry said the plane was on a training mission when it crashed at around 9:30 a.m. local time. The South Caucasus nation's Investigative Committee said a probe has been launched into the deadly crash. No more details were provided. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Citizen Among POWs Kyiv Returned To Russia In Recent Prisoner Swap

Kyrgyz citizen Alisher Tursunov was captured by Ukrainian armed forces during Russia's war against Ukraine
Kyrgyz citizen Alisher Tursunov was captured by Ukrainian armed forces during Russia's war against Ukraine

The Ukraine-Central Asia Telegram channel said on July 19 that Kyrgyz citizen, Alisher Tursunov, was among the soldiers returned to Russia as part of a prisoner of war swap with Ukraine earlier this week.

In late May, a video showing the 57-year-old Tursunov in Ukrainian custody appeared on the Internet. The man said police in the Russian city of Ryazan detained him and forced him to join the Russian military for its invasion of Ukraine. In return, he was promised money and Russian citizenship.

Tursunov then begged the Kyrgyz government to help him return home.

According to the Central Asian nation's laws, fighting in a foreign country for any side other than Kyrgyzstan is considered a crime.

Last month, another Kyrgyz man, whose name was not disclosed, was sentenced to five years in prison for joining Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.

The same month, a Kyrgyz man, Beknazar Borugul-uulu, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2023 for joining Russia's Wagner mercenary group to fight in Ukraine was released due to a January presidential amnesty decree.

In January, a Bishkek court handed a suspended seven-year prison term to another Kyrgyz man, Askar Kubanychbek-uulu, for joining the Russian military in Ukraine.

According to the court's ruling, Kubanychbek-uulu was banned from leaving the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, while serving a three-year probation period that was part of his seven-year suspended sentence.

However, he managed to flee Kyrgyzstan and returned to Russia, where he signed a new contract with the Defense Ministry to join Moscow's armed forces.

Kyrgyz officials have said that the deaths of at least 10 Kyrgyz citizens have been confirmed in the war in Ukraine.

After Russia announced a partial mobilization in September 2022, Kyrgyz authorities warned Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia that joining either the military occupying Ukraine or Ukraine's armed forces is considered “mercenary” work, which is punishable in the former Soviet republic by up to 15 years in prison.

The exact number of Kyrgyz nationals fighting in the conflict remains unknown.

Russian Independent Website Loses Registration

The It's My City media outlet covers news and current affairs in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. (file photo)
The It's My City media outlet covers news and current affairs in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. (file photo)

A court in Russia's Urals city of Yekaterinburg canceled the registration of the It's My City website on July 19 at the request of media watchdog Roskomnadzor. In March 2022, Roskomnadzor blocked the site over its coverage of anti-war rallies. It's My City said on Telegram that it will continue its work as the law allows its journalists to publish news and texts without registration, but bans them from getting accreditation for public events. The media outlet was established in 2012 and covers news and current affairs in Yekaterinburg. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Hungary's Orban Says Von Der Leyen 'Our Employee, Not Our Opponent'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the studio of Hungarian state radio (file photo)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the studio of Hungarian state radio (file photo)

Viktor Orban said on July 19 that Ursula von der Leyen -- who was reelected on July 18 for a second term as European Commission president and has been a constant critic of the Hungarian prime minister's close relationship with Moscow and his rule-of-law backsliding -- is just an "employee," not an adversary.

Orban, whose country took over the EU's six-month rotating presidency on July 1, has been a constant opponent of European support for embattled Ukraine and sanctions against Moscow.

Earlier this month he went on a self-styled "peace mission" to Moscow and Beijing that attracted the ire of the commission's chief and the leaders of the bloc's other member countries. He then met with former U.S. President Donald Trump, the Republican Party's candidate in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November.

"Von der Leyen is not our political opponent, she is our employee, and yours too," Orban said during his regular Friday morning "interview" with Hungarian state radio on July 19.

"Von der Leyen's task is to implement the line outlined by the prime ministers. Since she receives her salary from member states, she is in a relationship of dependence," Orban said.

Orban's remarks came after von der Leyen, in her speech in the European Parliament ahead of the vote that reconfirmed her as commission chief, called Orban's trips an "appeasement mission."

Orban also urged the other EU heads of state and government to be more effective in holding von der Leyen "accountable," saying her performance had been "very poor."

During her first five-year term, von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, steered the EU through several crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has been a main proponent of a Green Deal aiming to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050.

Under Orban, the leader of the right-wing populist Fidesz party who has been in power since 2010, Hungary has been accused of eroding the rule of law and democratic rights amid reports of growing corruption and cronyism. Billions of euros in EU funds earmarked for Hungary have been blocked over the bloc's concerns.

Orban told Hungarian state radio on July 19 that he would continue his "peace mission" and said that a Trump victory in the U.S. presidential election in the United States would bring "peace" to global politics.

"Trump is clear about what he is going to do. Why do we want to be left behind? This will also change the Europeans' situation. The essence of politics is to know where the epicenter of events will be," Orban said.

Orban's remarks come after he sent a letter to EU leaders on July 16 saying that while the United States is "at the moment heavily preoccupied with the presidential campaign," Trump is ready to act "immediately" as a peace broker if he gets reelected.

8 Kyrgyz Women, 14 Children Return Home From Syrian Camps With U.S. Help

Kyrgyz women and children return to Kyrgyzstan from Syria in August 2023.
Kyrgyz women and children return to Kyrgyzstan from Syria in August 2023.

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said on July 19 that 8 Kyrgyz women and 14 children returned to the Central Asian nation from refugee camps in Syria's northeast. The ministry said the United States gave "direct support and assistance" in implementing another Aikol-6 humanitarian mission to repatriate Kyrgyz citizens from Syria. Hundreds of Kyrgyz citizens, mostly women and children, have been repatriated from Syria in recent years with the involvement of international organizations. Kyrgyz authorities said in 2018 that 850 Kyrgyz nationals, including about 140 women, had joined terrorist organizations in Syria and in Iraq, of whom 150 were killed in these places.

Notorious Uzbek Criminal Kingpin Gets 20 Years In Prison

Baxtiyor Qudratullaev, aka Bakhti Tashkentsky (file photo)
Baxtiyor Qudratullaev, aka Bakhti Tashkentsky (file photo)

A Tashkent court on July 19 sentenced notorious Uzbek criminal kingpin Baxtiyor Qudratullaev, known in the criminal world as Bakhti Tashkentsky, to 20 years in prison on charges of extortion and illegal drugs possession. The 53-year-old, who is considered a "thief in law," which gives him an elite status in the criminal hierarchy of the former Soviet Union, is a close associate of another Uzbek kingpin, Salim Abduvaliev, who was sentenced to six years in prison in March on charges of illegally possessing and transporting arms and explosives. Abduvaliev is believed to have ties with top Uzbek officials and leaders of the so-called Brothers' Circle, a Eurasian drug-trafficking network. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Romanians Appear To Be Involved In Mass Riot In Leeds

Fires burn during unrest in the Harehills district of Leeds on July 18.
Fires burn during unrest in the Harehills district of Leeds on July 18.

An overnight mass riot in the British city of Leeds has been quelled, police said early on July 19, after a police car was overturned and a bus was set on fire by angry residents, most of whom spoke Romanian in videos posted on social media. Police said a “serious disorder incident” began in the late afternoon on July 18 in the northern city’s Harehills area after crowds gathered following a family disturbance that police had been called to. Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said she was “appalled at the shocking scenes” in Leeds

Pakistan Arrests Al-Qaeda Leader On Sabotage Rap

Pakistani counterterror officials have arrested an Al-Qaeda leader, Amin ul Haq, describing him as a close associate of the late Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The Counterterrorism Department (CTD) in the most populous province of Punjab said it had registered a legal case against ul Haq, accusing him of having planned sabotage targeting important installations in the province. "In a significant breakthrough in the fight against terrorism, CTD, in collaboration with intelligence agencies, successfully apprehended Amin ul Haq, a senior leader of Al-Qaeda," the department's spokesperson added in a statement.

Updated

Russian Court Sentences U.S. Journalist Gershkovich To 16 Years In Prison

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

A court in Russia has found Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as politically motivated, and sentenced him to 16 years in prison.

After hearing closing arguments in the case on July 19, a day after both Gershkovich's employer and the U.S. State Department called for his immediate release, the court handed down its ruling behind closed doors, local media reported.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to answer a journalist's question about the reasons for the expedited process of the court's decision, saying that he cannot comment on such a situation. He added that Gershkovich's trial is being held behind closed doors because of the "sensitivity of the case."

Some analysts said the move to expedite the case could be a sign that talks are heating up between Moscow and Washington on a possible prisoner exchange.

When asked in Moscow on July 19 about the talks on a possible prisoner swap involving Gershkovich, Peskov refused to comment.

The trial, which started on June 26, has been held behind closed doors 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.

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 Vedomosti published a photo of local pro-Kremlin lawmaker Vyacheslav Vegner outside the courtroom and said he had taken the witness stand.

Vegner told Vechernie Vedomosti 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, were 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.

Updated

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.

Hans Noel, a political scientist at Georgetown University's Department of Government, told RFE/RL that Trump’s speech brought “nothing new” on his foreign policy outlook, with his view on supporting the war in Ukraine diametrically opposed to that of the Democrats.

Trump's Convention Speech Underscores 'Different Framing' Of Russia's War On Ukraine, Expert Says
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“I think the thing that came through the most is just the different framing of the war in Ukraine,” Noel said.

“It's not framed as Russia invaded Ukraine and Ukraine would like our help to defend itself, but rather that Ukraine and Russia got themselves into a war and maybe we don't want to get involved ourselves.”

Nuclear Submarines

Trump painted his four years in office as one of relative international peace and stability with rivals Russia and China at bay.

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. Instead, he focused his criticism on the "administration," which includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who many say could replace Biden atop the Democratic ticket.

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 assassination attempt took place.

“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 opponents say expanded the boundaries of acceptable presidential discourse with consistent lies and derogatory labels for opponents, then segued into a call to lower the temperature of domestic political discussion.

“We must not criminalize dissent or demonize political disagreement, which is what's been happening in our country lately at a level that nobody has ever seen before,” he said.

He then presented himself as the biggest victim of the divisive political discourse, accusing the Democratic party of “weaponizing the justice system” to go after him and his family.

Trump spent considerable time during his speech discussing his domestic agenda should he be elected.

He 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.

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