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Suspect In U.S. Consulate Shooting In Turkey Arrested

Turkish police secure the area in front of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul in August 2015.
Turkish police secure the area in front of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul in August 2015.

A suspect in an armed attack on the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul nearly four years ago has been arrested by Turkish security forces.

Hatice Kilic, a member of a far-left militant group, was detained in the Avcilar district of Istanbul, the local governor's office said on February 2.

Two women fired on the consulate building in the August 2015 attack. One of them was arrested at the time but Kilic remained at large, with a 1.5 million-lira ($290,000) bounty for information leading to her arrest.

The Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Turkey, said at the time it was behind the attack.

It said the United States was the "arch-enemy" of the Middle East and the world.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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Russian Blogger Fined After Being Detained Before Putin Visit To Siberia

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Yakutsk on June 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Yakutsk on June 18.

A court in Russia's Sakha-Yakutia region in Siberia fined blogger Pyotr Shepelev 10,000 rubles ($117) on June 21 for taking part in an unsanctioned rally in January. Shepelev was detained three days earlier, hours before a visit to the regional capital, Yakutsk, by President Vladimir Putin. Shepelev's lawyer said his client faced five administrative charges related to disobeying police orders and participating in unsanctioned rallies. It is not clear if the court's ruling was related to all or some charges against the blogger. Hours before his detention, Shepelev said two people appeared to be surveying his apartment block. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Armenia Becomes Latest Country To Recognize Palestinian Statehood

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on June 21 that Yerevan supports a UN resolution on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. (file photo)
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on June 21 that Yerevan supports a UN resolution on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. (file photo)

Armenia has recognized Palestinian statehood, the latest country to do so amid a backlash to an ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza that has claimed thousands of civilian victims. Yerevan supports a UN resolution on an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and is in favor of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 21. Several Western countries have recognized a Palestinian state since the start of Israel's offensive after an October attack by fighters from Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU -- on southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people and resulted in about 250 being taken hostage. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist Gets 10 Years In Prison On Hostage-Taking Charge

Kyrgyz activist Alga Kylychev (file photo)
Kyrgyz activist Alga Kylychev (file photo)

BISHKEK -- A court in Bishkek has sentenced Kyrgyz activist and Social Democratic Party member Alga Kylychev to 10 years in prison on a charge of hostage-taking, which he vehemently denies, calling it politically motivated.

Bailiffs immediately arrested Kylychev after a judge at the Alamudun district court in the northern Chui region pronounced the ruling on June 21.

The charge against Kylychev stems from 2019 events in a Bishkek suburb, where former President Almazbek Atambaev and his supporters clashed with law enforcement officers at Atambaev's Koi-Tash compound.

The violence broke out after the former president refused to obey three summons to appear at the Interior Ministry for questioning about the 2013 release of notorious crime boss Aziz Batukaev.

Kylychev told RFE/RL after he was arrested that none of the prosecutors' witnesses confirmed that he was in the Koi-Tash compound during the deadly clashes.

"I consider it as a political ruling," Kylychev said, adding that if his life is in danger while he is in custody, the authorities should be held responsible for that.

According to Kylychev, his incarceration is retaliation by authorities for his refusal to take part in the "illegal exoneration" of another former president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, who fled the country in 2010 following deadly anti-government protests and was sentenced to life in absentia in 2014.

The standoff between security forces and Atambaev's supporters in 2019 resulted in the death of a senior security officer and more than 170 injuries -- 79 of them sustained by law enforcement officers.

Authorities launched a probe into the deadly standoff and charged Atambaev and 13 of his supporters with murder, attempted murder, threatening or assaulting representatives of the authorities, hostage-taking, and the forcible seizure of power.

In 2020, Atambaev was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role in the illegal release of Batukaev.

In February last year, Atambaev was released due to his deteriorated health and allowed to travel to Spain to receive treatment. He has not returned.

EU To Open Accession Negotiations With Ukraine, Moldova On June 25

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Moldovan President Maia Sandu (file photo)

The European Union will start accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova next week, the EU's Belgian presidency announced on June 21, a move that will mark a watershed moment for the two countries' aspirations to eventually join the bloc.

"The EU Council adopted the general EU positions, including negotiating frameworks, for accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, it said in a message on X, adding, "This opens the way for launching the negotiations on Tuesday, June 25, in Luxembourg.

The EU Council groups representatives of the governments of the 27 states that make up the bloc.

The official opening of the negotiations with Ukraine will take place first, at 3:30 p.m., followed by Moldova at 6 p.m., the message said.

The announcement comes two weeks after the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, recommended opening the process, saying the two countries are sufficiently prepared to engage in negotiations with the EU -- an arduous journey that could take years.

Ukraine and Moldova submitted their candidacies shortly after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and obtained candidate status in June 2022, gaining the conditional green-light for the start of negotiations in December.

Shortly after the announcement by the Belgian EU presidency, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the move, saying on X that he was "grateful" for the bloc's "robust political will."

"Millions of Ukrainians, and indeed generations of our people, are realizing their European dream. Ukraine is returning to Europe, where it has belonged for centuries, as a full-fledged member of the European community," he said, while also hailing Moldova's inclusion in the accession talks.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on X that she had signed the document that envisaged the opening of membership talks with the bloc.

Shortly after the announcement by the Belgian EU presidency, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on X that she had signed the document that envisaged the opening of membership talks with the bloc.

"Today, I signed the Decree on initiating Moldova's EU accession negotiations. Becoming an EU member is our path to peace, prosperity, and a better life for all citizens," Sandu wrote.

"Wishing our delegation every success as they officially launch negotiations in Luxembourg next week."

Pro-Western Sandu, under whom Moldova made an abrupt U-turn from Russia to Europe, is up for reelection later this year after handing an upset defeat to Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in 2020.

With Sandu at the helm, neutral Moldova also strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, firmly aligning itself with Kyiv while tightening its ties with its Western neighbor, EU and NATO member Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.

Sandu has said Moscow plans to undermine the former Soviet republic's stability and throw it off its path toward European integration ahead of the presidential elections and a referendum on membership in the European Union scheduled simultaneously in the fall.

In reaction to Brussel's announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 21 that pursuing EU integration was a sovereign matter for Chisinau, but said there were "many Moldovans" who also desired close ties to Russia.

Updated

Kazakh Nationals Identified As Suspects In Shooting Of Kazakh Opposition Activist In Kyiv

Kazakh oppositionist Aidos Sadyqov (file photo)
Kazakh oppositionist Aidos Sadyqov (file photo)

Ukraine's National Police said on June 21 that two Kazakh nationals are suspected of shooting a noted Kazakh opposition activist and journalist Aidos Sadyqov in Kyiv earlier this week.

According to a statement from the National Police, the suspected attackers are Altai Zhaqanbaev, born in 1988, and Meiram Qarataev, born in 1991. The two suspects were added to the international wanted list, with a Kyiv court issuing arrest warrants for them.

The statement added that investigators found Zhaqanbaev and Qarataev arrived in Ukraine on June 2 from Poland. They rented an apartment and bought a car in Kyiv, after which they surveyed Sadyqov's everyday routine.

"On June 18, one of the suspects approached [Sadyqov's] car and shot him, while his accomplice was near the building to act as a lookout. After that they fled the crime scene," the statement said, adding that the two suspects then left Ukrainian territory via the Ukrainian-Moldovan border.

Investigations are underway to find out who ordered the attempt on Sadyqov's life.

Sadyqov, an outspoken critic of Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and his government, is currently in intensive care fighting for his life.

His wife Natalya Sadyqova, who is also a journalist, was in the vehicle during the attack but was unharmed.

Sadyqova said in a video statement on YouTube on June 21 that one of the suspects, Qarataev, is a police officer serving in Kazakhstan's northern Qostanai region.

The Kazakh Interior Ministry issued a statement right after Sadyqova's YouTube video was published, saying that "Qarataev was dismissed from the organs attached to the ministry in January 2019 and currently is not a police officer."

Wife Of Kazakh Journalist Says Husband In 'Grave Condition' After Shooting
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Earlier on June 19, Sadyqova told RFE/RL that, hours before the attack, she and her husband had issued a new video titled Toqaev Is Putin's Puppet on their YouTube channel.

The video criticizes Toqaev's "pro-Russian politics" and looks at the activities of Russian oligarchs and agents of influence in Kazakhstan, some of whom obtained Kazakh citizenship after Russia launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

She added that Toqaev stands to be a beneficiary of the shooting "because the Kazakh opposition has been fully cleansed." She did not present any evidence that connected the president in any way to the shooting.

Toqaev's spokesman Berik Uali said on June 21 that the Kazakh president "had ordered law enforcement entities to find the two suspects' whereabouts and undertake corresponding measures."

"Kazakhstan's side is ready to cooperate with Ukraine's law enforcement structures, including via Interpol," Uali said.

The Sadyqovs, along with their children, moved to Kyiv in 2014 after Kazakh authorities launched a case against Natalya, who worked as a journalist for the independent Respublika newspaper at the time. She was accused of slander.

Sadyqov used to lead a branch of the opposition Azat Social Democratic Party in his native Aqtobe region in Kazakhstan's northwest until 2010.

He later headed a group that was a major force for establishing a union to defend the rights of Kazakh workers at the Chinese-owned CNPC-Aktobemunaygaz oil company.

South Korea Summons Russian Envoy Over Defense Deal With Pyongyang

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands in Pyongyang on June 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands in Pyongyang on June 19.

Russia's Ambassador to Seoul, Georgy Zinoviev, was summoned to the South Korean Foreign Ministry on June 21 to protest a defense deal signed earlier this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Putin and Kim signed a "comprehensive strategic partnership" on June 19 during the Russian president's first visit in 24 years to the secretive Stalinist state, South Korea's archfoe.

Though full details of the deal are not known, the agreement calls for mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country and is intended to take cooperation between the two states to a new level.

First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun delivered Seoul's position on the pact and military cooperation between Russia and North Korea to Zinoviev, the Foreign Ministry said.

Kim urged Russia to "act responsibly," telling Zinoviev that Moscow's pledge of military aid for the North endangers Seoul's security.

He told Zinoviev that the move would have "negative impact" on relations between Russia and South Korea, the ministry said, adding that the Russian diplomat had promised to convey Seoul's message to Moscow.

In response, Zinoviev "emphasized that threats and attempts to intimidate the Russian Federation are unacceptable. The ambassador said that cooperation between Russia and North Korea is not aimed at third countries," the Russian Embassy in Seoul said in a post on X.

Putin has said Russia does not rule out military and technical cooperation with Pyongyang, or supplying it with weapons, moves that would violate UN sanctions against North Korea.

The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has condemned the deal as a threat to national security in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Seoul also said that, in response, it would consider sending weapons to Ukraine, which Putin said would be a "big mistake."

The White House said the North Korea-Russia pact is unsurprising and a sign of Russia's desperation.

In a phone call on June 20 with South Korea's Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the deal and said that Washington supports Seoul's responses to the security threat prompted by the treaty, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said in a statement.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Yonhap

Several Dead In Russian Strikes On Ukraine; Kyiv Launches Counterattacks

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar toward Russian positions from the front line towards Russian positions in the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar toward Russian positions from the front line towards Russian positions in the Donetsk region.

At least six people were killed in Russian shelling and missile strikes on Ukrainian targets as Moscow claimed Kyiv had launched a "mass" drone attack on occupied Crimea and several regions inside Russia.

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.

Five civilians were killed and 11 others were wounded by Russian shelling of civilian areas in Donetsk, which was targeted 22 times over the past 24 hours, the head of the regional military administration, Vadym Filashkin, reported on June 21. Private houses, nonresidential buildings, and an industrial facility were damaged by the shelling, Filashkin added.

In the southern region of Kherson, one person was killed and one was wounded by Russian shelling and air strikes from across the Dnieper River, regional Governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported.

A total of 15 settlements were struck in the region, including the regional capital, Kherson, Prokudin said, adding that a number of private houses were destroyed by the shelling.

The northeastern region of Kharkiv, which has been under constant Russian fire for the past several months, was again struck overnight and one person was wounded, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

The regions of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Sumy also came under attack, local officials reported.

Russia's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said that its air defense systems shot down 114 Ukrainian drones over occupied Crimea and the Russian regions of Krasnodar, Bryansk, and Volgograd in what it said was a "massive" attack early on June 21 that killed one person and wounded four others.

The Ilsky oil refinery in the Seversk district of Krasnodar was hit by falling debris that ignited a fire which was put out by firemen, regional Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said on Telegram.

Drone debris also fell near a bus station in Krasnodar, hitting a boiler installation and killing an employee, Kondratyev added.

The ministry also said its forces repelled a drone attack on a military airfield in Yeisk, in the Krasnodar region, adding that local authorities reported no damage or casualties. However, the Crimean WindTelegram channel said several fires could be seen at the airfield in Yeisk, which is located by the Sea of Azov, some 35 kilometers from the Ukrainian shore.

Ukraine's General Staff, meanwhile, reported that over the past two nights, its forces "successfully hit" a number of objects in Russia and occupied Crimea, including oil refineries, radar stations, and drone storage sites.

4 Killed In Helicopter Crash In Russia's Far East

Four people died in a helicopter crash in the Amur region in Russia's Far East, authorities reported on June 21. Russia's Investigative Committee for Transport said the helicopter took off on June 20 from a timber processing plant in Amur, heading in the direction of the Dzheltula River before disappearing. Telegram channel 112 reported that the wreckage of the helicopter was found in the taiga on June 21 after a search that lasted for more than one day, adding that the pilot and three passengers died in the crash. Authorities have opened an investigation into the causes of the incident. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Vucic, Kurti To Meet On June 26 In EU-Mediated Talks On Normalizing Relations

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will meet in Brussels on June 26 to conduct a new round of the EU-mediated dialogue on normalization of relations. EU spokesman Peter Stano and the government of Kosovo confirmed the meeting on June 20. Kurti's office told RFE/RL that the focus of the meeting will be the implementation of the agreement on the road to normalization of relations. The European Union has not yet released details on the agenda of the meeting. The summit will be mediated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and special envoy for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak. The talks were agreed during Lajcak's visits to Kosovo and Serbia this week. To read the full story on RFE/RL Balkan Service, click here.

Bomb Attached To Tree Detonates Remotely, Killing 2 In Suspected Organized Crime Hit In Montenegro

Two people were killed in an explosion in Montenegro on June 20 that authorities believe was an attack carried out by one organized crime group against another.
Two people were killed in an explosion in Montenegro on June 20 that authorities believe was an attack carried out by one organized crime group against another.

Two people were killed and three injured in the town of Cetinje in Montenegro when an explosive device attached high in a tree was remotely detonated, police said on June 20.

The director of the Montenegrin police, Aleksandar Radovic, confirmed that the two deceased men, Petar Kaluđerovic and Dragan Roganovic, were members of organized criminal groups.

Radovic's deputy, Lazar Scepanovic, told reporters the attackers had monitored the victims' habits and knew they used armored cars.

The improvised explosive device used in the attack was placed 7 meters up in the tree, Scepanovic said. It targeted four people as they entered a sports center, he said.

Kaluderovic died at the scene, while Roganovic passed away in the hospital.

The injured are Tanasije Taso Jovanovic and Mihajlo Borozan, who were with Kaluderovic and Roganovic, and a passerby, Desanka Vujovic. All three injured men were transported to a hospital in Montenegro where they were treated for their injuries and their lives were not in danger.

Scepanovic said the attack is believed to be retaliation by a rival criminal group.

Radovic said the police had "intelligence that this could happen“ and "unfortunately, it came true."

He said the fight against organized crime is not easy, but the state will prevail, not crime.

State prosecutor Danka Ivanovic Deric said evidence had been collected at the site of the attack and police officers, forensic experts, and an explosives expert conducted the investigation.

The two men who were killed were known by the police force. Kaluderovic, 20, was arrested in April along with three others, including Borozan, on suspicion of illegal possession of weapons and explosive devices.

The police department said its officers had searched several properties in Cetinje "used by members of organized criminal groups and persons of security interest, and related individuals." At the time, the investigative judge ordered their detention but it was not clear why they were no longer in jail.

The other man killed in the explosion, Roganovic, was injured in December 2017 in Cetinje when he was shot while exiting a car. Roganovic had been the bodyguard of gang member Goran Radoman, who was killed in Belgrade in February 2015.

Radoman was one of the first victims in the war between rival gangs that have been operating in Montenegro for years. The clashes started in 2014 when around 250 kilograms of cocaine disappeared in Valencia.

The total number of murders in mafia clashes in Serbia and Montenegro since 2012 is 193, according to data from the Black Book, a joint project of the investigative network KRIK and RFE/RL.

U.S. Bans Sales Of Kaspersky Software Over Russia Ties

Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)
Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk. (file photo)

The United States on June 20 announced plans to bar the sale of antivirus software made by Russia's Kaspersky Lab in the United States, citing the firm's large U.S. customers, including critical infrastructure providers, and state and local governments. Moscow's influence over the company was found to pose a significant risk, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a call with reporters. Raimondo said Russia has shown it has the capacity and the intent to exploit Russian companies like Kaspersky "to collect and weaponize the personal information of Americans and that is why we are compelled to take the action that we are taking today."

Mob In Pakistan Drags Burning Body Of 'Blasphemer' Through Streets In Swat Valley

A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.
A scene in Madian, Pakistan, after a mob beat a man accused of blasphemy was beaten to death and his body set on fire on June 20.

A Pakistani man who was visiting the country's Swat Valley as a tourist on June 20 was beaten to death and his body set on fire by an angry mob after he was accused of blasphemy.

The mob severely beat the man, identified as a resident of Punjab Province, and dragged his burning naked body through the streets, according to reports about the incident and authorities who spoke with RFE/RL.

Swat police chief Zahid Ullah said police officers initially rescued the man from the people who attacked him and sheltered him at a police station in Madian.

According to a local journalist in Madian, the mob broke down the gate of the police station and entered the building. They then poured gasoline on the man and set him on fire before dragging his lifeless body as they continued to beat him.

The rioters also burned three police cars and set fire to the police station, the journalist said.

The incident started when a number of people accused the man of having burned pages of the Koran in his bag and started a fight with him.

When it was announced through mosque loudspeakers that a "blasphemer" had been rescued by police, a crowd converged on the police station.

Local residents said police officers opened fired on the crowd and 11 people were injured. Police have not commented on the accusation.

Residents and health authorities said three injured people have been taken to the hospital.

The situation in and around Madian is reportedly tense. Authorities have invoked their power under Section 144 of Pakistani law to restrict people's movement and can shoot anyone who disobeys.

Swat Valley, nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan, is frequently visited by tourists from all over the country. It is especially popular in the summer season, when people go there to escape high temperatures.

Putin Calls For 'New Security Architecture' For Asia On Visit To Vietnam

Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.
Vietnamese President To Lam shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hanoi on June 20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 20 that it is time for a "new security architecture" for Asia as he wrapped up a short visit to Vietnam.

Putin signed 11 public agreements and memorandums of understanding with Vietnamese President To Lam while in Hanoi. Lam said he and Putin made other deals that are not publicly available.

The agreements centered on energy, education, science, and technology -- sectors the United States and other countries have targeted when sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The two countries also agreed to work on a roadmap for a nuclear science and technology center in Vietnam.

Russia's TASS news agency quoted Putin as saying, "We are firmly committed to deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam, which remains among the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy."

Lam said Putin has contributed to global "peace, stability, and development." Vietnam has remained neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and this marked Putin's first trip to Vietnam since 2017.

In Vietnam, Putin also met with Communist Party General-Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, according to the official Vietnam News Agency.

The United States has been working to strengthen and build partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, including with Vietnam.

Prior to Putin's visit, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Vietnam said "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities."

The U.S. State Department announced on June 20 it will send Assistant Secretary of State and former ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink to Hanoi this week.

Putin kicked off his four-day trip to Asia in North Korea on June 17.

Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a robust defense pact in Pyongyang. The pact was described as a comprehensive strategic partnership and ensures mutual assistance in the event of an attack by a third country.

Speaking in Hanoi on June 20, Putin also said he "does not rule out" sending weapons to North Korea.

The White House said the North Korea-Russia pact is unsurprising and a sign of Russia's desperation.

South Korea responded with a statement that Seoul would consider sending weapons to Ukraine, which Putin said would be a "big mistake."

Putin also said Russia is thinking about changing its nuclear doctrine, which states Russia may use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or in the event of a conventional attack that poses an existential threat to the state.

But he said there was no need for Russia to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Major-General Pat Ryder, responding to Putin's comments on its nuclear doctrine, said, "It's certainly irresponsible for countries that maintain these capabilities to make those types of comments."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Tsikhanouskaya's Adviser Vyachorka Sentenced To 20 Years In Absentia

Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))
Franak Vyachorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced to 20 years on multiple charges. (file photo))

The Minsk City Court on June 20 sentenced an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 20 years on multiple charges. Franak Vyachorka was sentenced in absentia for charges including conspiracy to seize power, organization of mass disorders, creation of an extremist group, and defamation of the country's authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office said the court also ordered Vyachorka to pay a fine of 60,000 rubles ($18,340). Vyachorka, who resides abroad, wrote on Facebook that the court rejected his request to take part in the trial over a video link. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

U.S. To 'Reprioritize' Missile Sales To Speed Ukraine Deliveries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stands in front of a Patriot air-defense missile launcher in eastern Germany on June 11.

WASHINGTON -- The United States will "reprioritize" planned deliveries of Patriot air-defense missiles to get them to Ukraine faster, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on June 20 as Washington works to fill Kyiv's "desperate need" for more air-defense capabilities.

The decision means that the deliveries of "missiles rolling off the production line" will go to Ukraine and other countries will have to wait for missiles they ordered.

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.

"This will ensure that we'll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war," Kirby said, describing the decision as "difficult but necessary."

The decision also affects missiles used in the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) as well as missiles used in the Patriot systems, Kirby said, stressing that only missiles are involved in the decision.

The other components -- radar systems and launchers -- currently are not available, Kirby said.

"Right now, we just don't have eligible systems coming off the production line. So, it was something we looked at. But right now, the focus is really going to be on the missiles themselves."

U.S. defense contractor RTX, formerly Raytheon, makes the radar systems and launchers for both the Patriot and the NASAMS. The missiles for the two systems are made by Raytheon and other companies.

Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told RFE/RL recently that it could take as long as two years to produce a new Patriot system.

Kirby said the first shipments headed to Ukraine will happen before the end of the summer. The total deliveries will cover an estimated 16 months of Ukraine's needs. He declined to say which countries agreed to reprioritize deliveries, though he said the decision will not have an impact on missile deliveries to Taiwan.

Kirby's comments came after Russia attacked Ukraine with missiles and drones overnight, damaging energy infrastructure and prompting more power blackouts. Ukraine's national power company, Ukrenerho, said on June 20 that four regions were targeted in the attacks.

Ukraine's largest private energy company, DTEK, said it was the seventh mass attack on the company's thermal power plant in the last three months. The latest wave of Russian strikes has also increased the number of scheduled power outages for domestic consumers, Ukrenerho said.

The Ukrainian Finance Ministry recently cut its outlook for economic expansion this year due to the energy shortage caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Western nations last week announced a $50 billion loan for Ukraine, part of which will go toward helping rebuild the nation's energy system.

Germany Blasted For Considering Deportations Of Afghans, Syrians

The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.
The stabbing death of a police officer in late May prompted calls for Germany to reconsider its ban against deportations to Taliban-run Afghanistan.

A push for Germany to consider the viability of using third countries to deport Afghan and Syrian refugees and process asylum seekers is meeting stiff resistance from rights groups and advocates.

The issue was a major topic of discussion in talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on June 20.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said during a meeting of regional interior ministers the same day that "concrete negotiations" are under way and that she was "confident" a way would be found to deport Afghan or Syrian immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Faeser said the measures would only affect a small number of people, and that in the case of Afghan nationals deportations could be conducted via third countries such as Uzbekistan.

Ahead of the meetings, which came on World Refugee Day, more than 300 organizations issued an open letter to Scholz in which they sharply criticized the initiative.

"Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures," said the letter, whose signatories included Amnesty International Germany, Doctors Without Borders, and the German migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

"Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU...do not work in practice, are extremely expensive, and pose a threat to the rule of law."

The signatories argued such measures would result in serious human rights abuses and integrating asylum seekers into society can succeed with greater cooperation.

The backlash against refugees has risen among conservative and hard-right politicians after a 25-year-old Afghan was accused of stabbing a German police officer to death late last month.

Germany halted deportations to Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021, and Berlin has no diplomatic ties with the de-facto government formed by the hard-line Islamist leaders.

Germany is also a major destination for Syrians seeking to escape that country's civil war and rule under leader Bashar al-Assad. Syrians are the largest refugee group in Germany, with hundreds of thousands allowed into the country since 2015.

The security and human rights situations in both Afghanistan and Syria are considered dire by watchdogs.

Scholz has previously backed dropping Germany's ban on deportations, however. On June 19 his vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, voiced his support for deportations at least in situations where individuals were suspected of terrorism or convicted of serious crimes like murder.

Proponents of the idea are reportedly considering whether it might be possible to conduct such deportations through third countries such as Uzbekistan while still staying in compliance with international law.

Faeser told the Neue Osnabrucker newspaper that negotiations have taken place with "various countries" and "we want to consistently expel and deport Islamist threats."

The Interior Ministry is also reportedly seeking ways of conducting asylum proceedings in third countries outside the European Union, similar to plans by Italy with Albania. The United Kingdom's deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda has also been cited by advocates as an example.

Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, has argued Germany could engage in talks with the Taliban and that parts of Syria are secure enough to allow the returns of refugees.

Opponents have argued that deportations of Afghans and Syrian refugees would go against the German constitution and commitments under international law and that the outsourcing of asylum procedures would violate asylum-seekers' human rights.

During their three days of talks that end on June 21, the state interior ministers are also reportedly considering cutting welfare benefits paid to Ukrainian refugees.

With reporting by dpa and AP

Adviser To Iranian Presidential Candidate Praised After Storming Off TV Set

A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.
A frustrated Mohammad Fazeli (front left) tore off his microphone and threw it after a heated exchange with a state TV panelist on June 19.

Supporters of Iranian reformist presidential candidate Masud Pezeshkian have praised his adviser Mohammad Fazeli for storming off the set of a live televised discussion program after a fiery exchange with a hard-line pundit.

Iran's state-run broadcaster IRIB has been holding televised roundtables as part of its election programming where candidates appear on set accompanied by two advisers to face a three-person panel of experts picked by the IRIB.

Fazeli appeared in the studio on June 19 as one of Pezeshkian’s two advisers on cultural issues, where he found himself on the receiving end of stinging remarks by Shahab Esfandiari, a panelist and the head of IRIB University.

Iranian Adviser Causes Scene On State TV
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In 2021, Fazeli was among a slew of professors and lecturers who were forced out of universities during the early months of the late President Ebrahim Raisi's tenure in office.

Between 2013 and 2017, during the first term of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Fazeli served as a deputy energy minister and later served as an adviser to the ministry.

Esfandiari, who is said to be close to hard-line candidate Saeed Jalili, accused Fazeli of "violating" his contract with the prestigious Shahid Beheshti University when he took positions in the government.

He also charged that Fazeli had "made a scene in the media" after being fired from the university and accused him of "damaging the image of higher education."

Fazeli insisted he had been cleared by the university to work in the government and maintained that Esfandiari was "lying."

The exchange quickly spiraled, with Esfandiari cutting in as Fazeli tried to speak. At one point, Pezeshkian jumped in, telling Esfandiari to "let him [Fazeli] speak."

Having lost control of the situation, the moderator, Jafar Khosravi, cut off Esfandiari and Fazeli's microphones. Fazeli proceeded to leave his seat, unhook his microphone, and throw it down before walking off the set.

A video later emerged showing a large group of Pezeshkian's supporters who had gathered in a conference hall at Tehran's Milad Tower to watch a livestream of the debate break into applause when Fazeli stormed off.

On social media, supporters of Pezeshkian criticized the state broadcaster for not allowing Fazeli to respond to Esfandiari's comments and accused the hard-line panelist of settling personal scores on live television.

Conservatives, however, argued that the incident provided a glimpse into what a Pezeshkian administration would look like.

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

Major Storm Kills 2 People In Moscow

People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.
People take shelter from hurricane-force winds and pounding rain that swept Moscow on June 20.

A severe storm hit Moscow on June 20, killing two people and injuring nine as hurricane-force winds and pounding rain swept across the city. Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tree that fell during the storm, while another person died after falling when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. Video circulating on the Internet showed falling billboards, trees, and other materials being whipped around by strong winds as heavy rains drenched the capital. Some videos appeared to show the formation of tornados. Officials said around 23 trees were uprooted and eight vehicles damaged in Moscow. One person was injured in a surrounding region where the storm felled some 200 trees, they added. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

EU Countries Agree On Fresh Russia Sanctions That Include Ban On Liquefied Gas

European Union ambassadors on June 20 approved a fresh package of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine aimed primarily at closing loopholes that exist in previous restrictions and targeting for the first time Moscow's lucrative liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.

"EU Ambassadors just agreed on a powerful and substantial 14th package of sanctions in reaction to the Russian aggression against Ukraine," the Belgian EU presidency wrote on X.

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"This package provides new targeted measures and maximizes the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes," it said.

The new package of sanctions includes measures to hold European operators accountable for sanctions violations by subsidiaries and partners in third countries and provide for a a ban on the transshipment of Russian liquefied natural gas and the export of helium.

It also restricts access to dual-use technologies and the trade in works of art stolen in Ukraine.

Between 4 billion and 6 billion cubic meters of Russian LNG was shipped on to third countries through EU ports last year, the bloc estimates.

The complete details of the package will be made public next week once EU foreign ministers approve the measures, most likely on June 24, ahead of an EU summit next week.

Some 47 new entities and 69 individuals were reportedly added to the EU sanctions list, bringing the total to 2,200.

The sanctions list may include explosives manufacturer Spetskhimiya; the Mayak factory that produces aircraft spare parts; and weapons manufacturer Tsniitochmash.

Among the reported individuals put on the list are Russian singer Polina Gagarina over her participation in Kremlin-sponsored events; Igor Altushkin, a former employee of President Vladimir Putin's administration and founder of the Russian Copper Company; general director of the Internet Development Institute Aleksei Goreslavsky; and Taimuraz Bolloyev, the former president of the Baltika brewing company.

Romanian President Withdraws NATO Bid, Clearing Final Hurdle For Rutte

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (left) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visit the NATO battlegroup situated in Cincu, Romania, in October 2022.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has withdrawn his bid to replace outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, allowing Romania to throw its support behind the candidacy of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is backed by all the other 31 members of the alliance.

Iohannis's decision was announced after a meeting of Romania's Supreme Defense Council (CSAT) on June 20 that also decided to supply Ukraine with a Patriot air-defense system that Kyiv has been pleading it allies for.

"During the CSAT meeting, the president of Romania said he had informed NATO allies at the end of last week about his withdrawing his candidacy for the position of NATO secretary-general," the CSAT said in a statement.

Iohannis then "asked the CSAT members about their position on Rutte's candidacy...and they declared they were in favor of Romania's throwing its support behind the Dutch premier's candidacy," the statement added.

On June 18, Hungary and Slovakia announced their support for Rutte, leaving Romania as the only member of the alliance that had yet to endorse the longtime Dutch prime minister for the position.

Iohannis, a former physics teacher who will end his second and last 5-year presidential term in December, announced in the spring that he would run for the NATO position that is to become vacant on October 1.

To back his candidacy, Iohannis had argued in an article in Politico in March that the alliance needed change and an Eastern European perspective amid Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

"NATO needs a renewal, with a strong, influential representation from this region, which meets the needs of the member states," he said.

Romania also agreed after much deliberation to donate one of its Patriot systems to Ukraine, which faces daily missile and drone strikes on its cities and civilian infrastructure.

"Taking into account the significant deterioration of Ukraine's security situation as a consequence of Russia's massive and constant attacks on its civilians and its infrastructure, especially its energy infrastructure...CSAT members, in close coordination with Romania's allies, have decided to donate Ukraine one Patriot system," the statement said.

Romania has so far received four out of the seven Patriot systems ordered from the United States for a total price of $4 billion.

At a G7 summit last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he "urgently" needed seven Patriot systems to protect Ukrainians and the country's infrastructure from Russia's continued bombardment.

U.S. President Joe Biden responded by saying the United States had received commitments from five countries -- which he did not name -- to provide Patriot and other air-defense systems to Ukraine.

Biden said the United States would supply one system, which will be redeployed from Poland. Germany has also said it too will provide several Patriot systems to Kyiv.

Amid Growing U.S.- Russian Tensions, Dual Citizen Goes On Trial In Yekaterinburg

Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.
Ksenia Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg on June 20.

The trial of U.S.-Russian citizen Ksenia Karelina (married name Khavana) in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg began with the judge ruling that the proceedings on a treason charge will take place behind closed doors.

Judge Andrei Mineyev, who is scheduled to try another U.S. citizen, Evan Gershkovich, later this month on an espionage charge, handed down his ruling Karelina's case on June 20.

The 33-year-old resident of Los Angeles was arrested in February during a visit to her native Yekaterinburg after security officers accused her of sending $51.80 from her U.S.-based bank account to the Razom for Ukraine foundation, which helps Ukrainian civilians.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said at the time that it suppressed the illegal activities of a U.S.-Russian citizen who was "involved in providing financial assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against the security of our country."

Washington has repeatedly criticized Russia for targeting and arresting U.S. citizens, accusing Moscow of detaining them as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians being held in U.S. prisons.

In late March last year, the FSB in Yekaterinburg arrested Gershkovich on espionage charges that he, his employer The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. officials reject a groundless.

Another U.S. citizen, former Marine Paul Whelan, is also being held in Russia on espionage charges. Whelan and the U.S. government reject the charges as politically motivated. While Gershkovich is still in pretrial detention, Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.

A third U.S. citizen, RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who also holds Russian citizenship, has been in pretrial detention since October 2023 on charges of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law and spreading false information about the Russian military. The U.S. government and her employer say the charge is in reprisal for her work.

In total, at least nine Americans are currently being detained in Russia on various charges or convictions.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a "Do Not Travel" warning to U.S. citizens in the background of U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's full-scale invasion of that country. The note cited "the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials" in its warning.

With reporting by SotaVision

Russia Adds Journalist Kurbangaleyeva To Wanted List

Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)
Farida Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. (file photo)

Russian authorities on June 19 added journalist Farida Kurbangaleyeva to the list of wanted persons and the registry of terrorists and extremists on unspecified charges. The Prague-based Kurbangaleyeva wrote on Facebook that the move was made by the Russian authorities most likely over her "openly saying that Russia...conducts a criminal, land-grabbing war in Ukraine, enslaves other peoples, annihilates identities, tortures, robs, rapes, and suppresses any kind of dissent." Through the years Kurbangaleyeva has worked at various leading television channels in Russia and Current Time in Prague. She has a YouTube channel where she often interviews Ukrainian and Russian politicians and political observers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, click here.

Blast In Southern Montenegro Kills 2

Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.
Police remove a body from the scene of an explosion in Cetinje on June 20.

Two people were killed and three more, including a woman passing by, were injured in a powerful explosion in the southern Montenegrin town of Cetinje on June 20, police said. The explosion blew out the windows of a nearby sports hall and uprooted a tree in the center of the town, which is Montenegro's former royal capital. Police cordoned off the area and opened an investigation into the cause of the blast. They did not give any details on what may have caused the blast, but local media said it was caused by a bomb targeting members of the criminal underworld. Organized crime is seen as a serious obstacle to Montenegro's EU accession. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Tajik Detained Over Mass Food Poisoning In Moscow

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

A Moscow court on June 19 ordered Tajik national Karim Normatov to be held in pretrial detention for two months over a mass food poisoning in the Russian capital. Normatov is a cook for the Savon-K food-delivery company. Three other suspects -- the company's commercial director, Vladimir Shin; the director of the Kukhnya Na Rayone restaurant, Anton Lozin; and his chief of food quality, Yelena Mashkova, were placed under house arrest. Russia's consumers' rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said earlier that more than 120 Savon-K customers were diagnosed with botulism and 50 were hospitalized. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Blogger Faces Charges After Being Detained Before Putin Siberia Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets people in Yakutsk on June 18.

Pyotr Shepelev, a blogger who lives in the Russian region of Sakha-Yakutia in Siberia, faces five administrative charges after being detained on June 18, just hours before a visit to the regional capital, Yakutsk, by President Vladimir Putin. Shepelev's lawyer said on June 20 that the charges against his client were disobeying police orders and participating in an unsanctioned protest. He could face up to 15 days in jail or a fine. Hours before his detention, Shepelev wrote on Telegram that two people appeared to be surveying his apartment block, suggesting that it was linked to Putin's visit. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

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