Accessibility links

Breaking News

News

Updated

More Arrests In Turkey As State Of Emergency Takes Effect

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the nation in a live television broadcast from the presidential palace in Ankara on July 21.

A three-month state of emergency came into force in Turkey on July 21, a move President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said was necessary and did not violate the rule of law or basic freedoms of citizens.

Authorities say the emergency state will enable them to take swift and effective action against those responsible for last week's failed military coup, which left more than 260 people dead and 1,500 injured.

Erdogan’s government has said a "cancer virus" within some state institutions led to the July 15 coup attempt, and launched mass purges of state institutions that threaten tens of thousands of people.

The state of emergency, which Erdogan said was necessary and fully in line with Turkey's constitution, began at 1 a.m. local time on June 21.

Turkey's parliament endorsed the state of emergency on July 21, with legislators in the 550-member parliament voting 356-115 in favor.

Media reports said that, in an unusual move after the state of emergency was announced, Erdogan read out the morning call to prayer through loudspeakers at the mosque inside his presidential palace early on July 21.

Meanwhile, eight Turkish military officers who fled by military helicopter and applied for asylum in Greece after the abortive coup have gone on trial in the northern Greek city of Alexandroupolis for illegal entry. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.

Turkish authorities insist they will receive fair treatment at home, despite indications of rough treatment in the postcoup crackdown by Erdogan's government.

In Turkey, hours after the state of emergency went into effect, Turkish media reported that 32 more judges and two military officers were detained by authorities on July 21 as part of the massive crackdown.

Erdogan’s government has already fired, suspended, or detained nearly 60,000 police, judges, civil servants, and teachers in an unprecedented reprisal following the failed coup that has stunned world leaders.

Nearly one-third of Turkey's roughly 360 serving generals have been detained. The Defense Ministry is investigating all military judges and prosecutors and has suspended 262 of them, broadcaster NTV reported, while 900 police officers in Ankara were also suspended on July 20.

Turkey’s education system has been hit particularly hard during the ongoing crackdown. The Education Ministry on July 20 added more than 6,500 new names to the list of 15,200 school employees suspended, state media reported.

Turkish plainclothes policemen accompany detained soldiers following the failed coup attempt as they arrive at an Istanbul court July 20.
Turkish plainclothes policemen accompany detained soldiers following the failed coup attempt as they arrive at an Istanbul court July 20.

The government also started proceedings to close down more than 600 educational institutions, most of them private schools. In addition, 21,000 teachers at private institutions have had their licenses revoked and more than 1,500 university deans have been forced to resign.

Many of the thousands targeted by the government are purported to be followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States who Erdogan blames for the coup attempt.

The 75-year-old Gullen, a former ally of Erdogan, has condemned the coup attempt and rejected having any involvement in it.

The newly imposed state of emergency will allow the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in passing new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary.

Erdogan announced the emergency in a live television broadcast in front of government ministers after a meeting of the National Security Council that lasted nearly five hours on July 20.

"The aim of the declaration of the state of emergency is to be able to take fast and effective steps against this threat against democracy, the rule of law, and rights and freedoms of our citizens," Erdogan said on state television after a five-hour cabinet meeting in Ankara.

"This practice is absolutely not against democracy, rule of law, and freedom -- the opposite. It has the purposes of protecting and strengthening these values," he said.

Erdogan and his deputies sought to reassure the Turkish public there would be no restrictions on press freedom or personal freedom.

However, under a state of emergency the government can impose curfews, ban news media, interdict traffic, cancel private gatherings, and conduct searches of private homes, among other things.

"It isn't martial law of 1990s," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek wrote on Twitter. "Life of ordinary people and businesses will go unimpacted, uninterrupted, business will be as usual....It won't be any different from [emergency states] imposed by our European partners."

The last state of emergency in Turkey was lifted in 2002 in two southeastern provinces.

Erdogan sought to reassure investors who have been fleeing from Turkish markets since the coup attempt, saying economic reforms would continue.

The lira hit a record low against the dollar on July 20 before slightly recovering July 21, while the Istanbul stock index dropped 9.5 percent as of July 20, its worst performance since 2013.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's precipitated another downturn in the markets on July 20 by downgrading the nation's credit rating by one notch, putting it further into junk-bond territory.

It cited as reasons "the polarization of Turkey's political landscape" and "eroding institutional checks and balances."

Erdogan derided the downgrade and Standard & Poor's in a nationwide televised address late on July 20, saying the agency's decision was "political" but would not harm Turkey.

In a first Western reaction to Erdogan’s move to declare a state of emergency, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on July 21 urged Turkey to maintain both the rule of law and a sense of proportionality in its response to the coup attempt.

Steinmeier also called on Erdogan to restrict the state of emergency to only the truly necessary length of time, and to end the measure as quickly as possible.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has also voiced “serious concerns” about the turn of events in Turkey.

Russia, which recently appeared to patch up briefly strained relations with Ankara, refrained from commenting on the Turkish move. Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters on July 21, "This is an internal affair of Turkey." Peskov also rejected a July 20 report by Iran’s Fars news agency that said Erdogan had received a warning from Russia about an imminent military coup hours before it was initiated.

Fars said the warning was based on data Russian military in the region received intercepting "highly sensitive army exchanges and encoded radio messages showing that the Turkish Army was readying to stage a coup."

"I don't have such information and I don't know the sources which Fars is referring to," Peskov said.

Austria has summoned Turkey's ambassador to explain Ankara's connection with demonstrations in Austria in Erdogan’s support, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on July 21.

Kurz told Austrian radio the ambassador would be asked whether Turkish officials encouraged thousands of people in Austria to take to the streets over recent days in support of Erdogan.

Kurz said authorities “have evidence that the demonstrations for Erdogan that have taken place in Vienna were called for directly from Turkey,” an action which he called “absolutely untenable.”

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP

More News

Russia Launches Probe Of ICC After It Issues Arrest Warrant For Putin

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan (file photo)

Russia's Investigative Committee said on March 20 that it has started investigating International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan and the court's three judges after an arrest warrant was issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. According to the committee, The Hague-based court’s officials are suspected of "preparation of an attack on a representative of a foreign state who is under international protection to complicate the international situation." The ICC issued the arrest warrant for Putin and his commissioner for children's rights on March 17. The two are accused of committing a war crime by unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Rights Violations May Amount To Crimes Against Humanity, UN Expert Says

Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (file photo)

Iran's authorities have committed violations in recent months that may amount to crimes against humanity, a UN-appointed expert told the Human Rights Council on March 20, citing cases of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, sexual violence, and persecution. Iran has been swept by protests since the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in custody last September. Addressing the Geneva-based council, Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said he had evidence that Amini died "as a result of beatings by the state morality police." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Britain Sanctions More Iranian Officials Involved In Rights Abuses, Financing IRGC

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly

Britain on March 20 sanctioned more Iranian officials responsible for financing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and for committing human rights abuses. They include five members of the body that manages the IRGC's investments and two IRGC commanders from Tehran and Alborz provinces who committed "gross human rights violations," the Foreign Office statement said. "Today we are taking action on senior leaders within the IRGC who are responsible for funneling money into the regime’s brutal repression.... We will continue to stand with the Iranian people as they call for fundamental change in Iran," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

Jailed Iranian Activist Says 'Overthrow' Of The Regime Is 'Logical' Step

Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat

In a message on the eve of the Persian New Year to honor the hundreds of victims killed in recent nationwide protests, leading jailed Iranian political activist Bahareh Hedayat said the "overthrow" of the Islamic regime as a "logical" step following months of unrest.

In a letter written from the women's ward of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Hedayat said on March 19 that while toppling the Islamic government was not the initial intent of the movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for an alleged violation of the hijab law, "this demand has become the objective on a scale that cannot be ignored.”

Hedayat, who is currently in prison for participating in the anti-government protests that erupted after Amini's death last September, listed the names of several protesters who were killed during the unrest, as well as four protesters who were sentenced to death and then executed as part of the judiciary's crackdown aimed at intimidating the demonstrators, thousands of whom have been arrested.

She added that the Islamic authority "has become the most immoral element of Iranians' daily lives and its survival is a denial of our survival, our children's survival, and our land. Therefore, the logic of overthrow is still in place."

The letter emphasizes the protesters' determination to "take back Iran" after the death of Amini.

Along with the execution of four protesters, Iran's judiciary has handed several others death sentences after what rights groups and the U.S. government have called "sham trials."

The executions and death sentences are part of the government's brutal, and often violent, crackdown on demonstrators. Lawmakers have pushed for harsh punishments to try and quell what has become the biggest challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Hedayat is a student activist and women's rights campaigner in Iran who has been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms several times. Most recently, she was arrested on October 3 during the nationwide protests.

The activist HRANA news agency has said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

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

Grenade Blast Kills Mother, Five Children In Central Afghanistan

Five children along with their mother were killed when a grenade exploded in Afghanistan’s central Ghor Province, local officials said on March 20. Abdulhai Zaeem, the provincial director of information and culture, told the dpa news agency that the incident happened on March 19 in the provincial capital Firozkoh, while the children were playing with a hand grenade inside their house. Unexploded military supplies left from decades of war often cause casualties among children in Afghanistan. On March 17, two children were killed and two others wounded when they were hit by an unexploded mortar shell in Logar Province.

Kazakh Ruling Party Dominates Vote, OSCE Sees Some Progress, Some Candidates Cry Foul

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev votes in Astana during his country's parliamentary elections, which were held on March 19.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The ruling Amanat party appears to have won a majority of seats in a general election in Kazakhstan that international observers said showed some progress over previous votes while a number of opposition politicians claimed that the balloting was unfair.

Preliminary official results are expected from the Central Election Committee on March 20, a day after exit polls said Amanat had taken about 53 percent of the votes cast for the 98 seats in the lower house. At least three other parties surpassed the 5 percent threshold in order to enter parliament, according to the polls, with one showing as many as six parties winning seats.

Slightly more than half of the 12 million eligible voters went to the polls, according to the Central Election Committee. The parliamentary elections took place at the same time as local elections across the vast, oil-rich country and complete a political cycle after bloody unrest last year left at least 238 people dead.

“Democracy is a process that requires constant attention and dedication. We have noted some welcome improvements, including related to election laws, but Kazakhstan will only achieve the stated political goal of democratic development if far-reaching reforms continue,” Irene Charalambides, special coordinator and leader of the short-term observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on March 20.

“In particular, greater attention to protecting everyone’s fundamental freedoms is needed. Most notably, the restrictive media space and limited campaign coverage did not match candidates’ efforts to engage in a more dynamic contest,” she added.

The vote follows a referendum in June that marked the end of special privileges for the country's former longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbaev and snap presidential elections in November that handed 69-year-old incumbent Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev a fresh seven-year presidential term.

The early elections were the first since 2004 in which candidates without party affiliations could stand for seats in the lower house, called the Mazhilis, as part of a package of electoral reforms initiated by Toqaev in the wake of the unrest in January 2022.

But only 29 of the parliament’s seats are available to the single-mandate candidates, with the rest reserved for party list candidates.

Several candidates in the country's largest city, Almaty, said on March 20 that they would not recognize the results because of "various violations" of voting laws.

Journalist and activist Inga Imanbai told reporters at a news conference with two other independent candidates to the parliament and a candidate to Almaty city council, that a court appeal would be launched because "the votes of independent candidates were stolen."

The four listed various violations, including the improper counting of ballots and government pressure on public employees to vote for certain parties.

"I went to the elections with hope. But I was wrong. However, we will continue to fight for our rights," said Ravqat Mukhtarov, who was a candidate to the Almaty municipal council.

The return of single-mandate district races added some dynamism to a vote dominated by system candidates in a country where no elections have been deemed free or fair by international election monitors since Kazakhstan gained independence more than 30 years ago.

Still, several opposition-minded figures were excluded from races at the parliamentary and city council level on administrative pretexts, while others complained of government pressure on their campaigns.

Of the seven parties that competed, the most well-established was Amanat, a renamed version of the Nur Otan party bossed by octogenarian Nazarbaev, who remained powerful even after stepping down and allowing Toqaev to succeed him in 2019.

The OSCE noted that "limits on the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms remain and some political groups continue to be prevented from participating as political parties in elections."

While the voting "was organized in a smooth manner overall," the OSCE said "significant procedural irregularities were observed."

“The increased competition, particularly with self-nominated candidates, is a significant development. However, legal and practical hurdles continue to detract from a fully open race among equals,” said Reinhold Lopatka, the leader of the delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

“In the future, the publication of results for each polling station will be important for improved transparency and public confidence.”

Last year’s crisis effectively ended the political career of Nazarbaev, who relinquished his remaining positions to Toqaev, while denying rumors of a rift with his protege.

Russian Justice Ministry Requests Disbandment Of Moscow-Based SOVA Analytical Center

The SOVA center primarily carries out sociological research on nationalism and racism in Russia. (file photo)

The Moscow-based SOVA analytical center said on March 20 that Russia's Justice Ministry has asked a court to disband the think tank as a crackdown on providers of independent information continues. According to SOVA, the ministry's March 10 request was based on allegations that the organization had violated its charter by organizing or taking part in 24 events held outside of its place of registration, which is Moscow. Sova said it will appeal the move. The SOVA center conducts sociological research mostly focusing on nationalism and racism in the Russian Federation.

Updated

Rights Group Says Jailed Belarusian RFE/RL Journalist Ihar Losik 'Attempted Suicide'

Ihar Losik

The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) rights group has cited several sources as saying that jailed RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik has been taken to a prison medical facility after being found with "cuts to his hands and neck."

The human rights group said on March 20 that Losik was "rescued" after what it characterized as an "attempted suicide," though it was not clear how or to what extent Losik was injured or when the incident occurred. His parents told RFE/RL that, without explanation, they had stopped receiving letters from him more than a month ago.

According to Vyasna, Losik, who on March 21 will have been behind bars for 1,000 days, was in a punitive solitary confinement holding a hunger strike in correctional camp No. 1 in the city of Navapolatsk in the country's northeast when he was found with the wounds.

Losik was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2021 on several charges, including "organizing mass riots, incitement to social hatred," and several other charges that remain unclear.

The journalist has maintained his innocence and calls all charges against him politically motivated.

The husband of exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, as well as four other bloggers and opposition politicians and activists, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms along with Losik at the time.

In January, Losik's wife, Darya Losik, was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of facilitating extremist activity. The charge stemmed from her interview to the Poland-based Belsat television channel, which has been officially labeled as an extremist group by Minsk.

The couple's four-year-old daughter Paulina is currently in the custody of Ihar Losik's parents, who told RFE/RL on March 20 that 10 days earlier their son's lawyer was not allowed to meet his client in the correctional colony.

The lawyer, whose name has not been made public, said he was told he was not allowed to see Losik on March 10 because his client did not apply in advance for the meeting and was supposedly working in the prison and could not be excused.

Ihar Losik's father, Alyaksandr Losik, told RFE/RL that he is currently discussing the situation with the lawyer, with whom he plans to go to Navapolatsk to try to see his son and find out what really happened to him.

It is unclear if Alyaksandr Losik and the lawyer will be allowed to meet with the imprisoned journalist, who has been recognized as a political prisoner by human rights organizations.

The United States has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Ihar and Darya Losik, while RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has also demanded the couple's immediate release and condemned their imprisonment.

Top Afghan Taliban Leader Issues Decree Against Nepotism

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada

The supreme leader of the Taliban has issued a decree against nepotism, barring officials in Afghanistan's Taliban administration from hiring relatives in government positions. The shadowy leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, also ordered all Taliban officials to sack their sons and other relatives who are working in their administration. The decree was posted late on March 18 on the Taliban government's Twitter account. It did not elaborate on the reasons behind the decree, but it followed rumors that many Taliban officials have appointed their relatives to high-ranking government positions rather than professionals or those with experience needed for the posts. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Pakistani Police Arrest Dozens Of Supporters Of Former Prime Minister

Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gather outside a court in Islamabad on March 18.

Pakistani police have arrested dozens of supporters and aides of former Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of a crackdown on those involved in recent clashes with the security forces, Khan's party and police said on March 20. Supporters of Khan's party, Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI), clashed with police in the city of Lahore last week as they attempted to arrest him at his home, and later with police in Islamabad as he arrived to appear before a court on March 18. "Around 285 PTI supporters have been arrested in Lahore and Islamabad," said Khan's aide, Fawad Chaudhry. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Indonesia May End Visa-On-Arrival Policy For Russians, Ukrainians Amid Violations

Russians and Ukrainians have flocked to the Southeast Asian country’s popular resort island of Bali following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine to seek safety and avoid mobilization.

Indonesia may end its visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of Russia and Ukraine following reports of a wave of behavioral-related incidents and visa violations, CNN reported. Russians and Ukrainians have flocked to the Southeast Asian country’s popular resort island of Bali following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine to seek safety and avoid mobilization. About 58,000 Russians traveled to Bali in 2022, with another 22,500 arriving in January alone. About 10,000 Ukrainians arrived over that same period. Many of them have stayed beyond 60 days -- the maximum allowed under Indonesia visa rules -- and have taken up work as guides, hairdressers, and taxi drivers without authorization. To read the original story by CNN, click here.

Montenegrin President Djukanovic To Face Milatovic In Runoff On April 2

Milo Djukanovic, the head of the Democratic Party of Socialists, has effectively led Montenegro as president or prime minister since 1991.

PODGORICA -- Longtime Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic will face off next month against a candidate nearly half his age after failing to secure a majority in the first round of a presidential election held in the former Yugoslav republic on March 19.

Djukanovic garnered 35.3 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, edging out Jakov Milatovic, the former economy minister, who received 29.2 percent.

The leader of the pro-Russian Democratic Front, Andrija Mandic, ended up in third place with 19.3 percent of the votes, while Aleksa Becic, the former speaker of parliament, came in fourth with 10.9 percent.

About 64 percent of the nation’s 542,000 registered voters went to the polls, according to the central election committee.

A runoff between Djukanovic and Milatovic to be held on April 2 could prove pivotal as to whether Montenegro can escape two years of political stalemate and return to the path of reform.

The 61-year-old Djukanovic, the head of the Democratic Party of Socialists, has effectively led Montenegro as president or prime minister since 1991.

He is running on the slogan "Our President," but his three decades in power have been dogged by perceptions of rampant organized crime and corruption.

Milatovic, 37, is a leading member of the Europe Now movement. He served as economy minister in a government cobbled together by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.

He campaigned on boosting prosperity in a country that averaged nearly 3 percent growth for two decades before huge volatility over the past three years caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine that drove energy prices to record highs.

Europe Now shot into the national spotlight with a strong showing in last year's local elections in the capital, Podgorica, within months of being formed.

Polling in Montenegro is frequently unreliable, although some surveys have suggested that broad opposition to Djukanovic far outweighs support.

Following his first-place finish on March 19, Djukanovic said his 6-point lead gave him a “serious advantage” over Milatovic in the next and final round.

However, Milatovic could potentially count on the support of Mandic and Becic as all three share close ties to the Serbian Orthodox Church, experts say.

A Milatovic victory would potentially represent a new era in Montenegro's political life.

In an interview with RFE/RL shortly before the first-round vote, Kenneth Morrison, a specialist in modern Southeastern European history and politics at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom, said that few presidential elections in Montenegro have been as important as this one.

The last comparable national choice came in 1997, he suggested, when, as prime minister, Djukanovic unseated a staunch ally of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic for the presidency to put Montenegro on the path toward independence in 2006.

"This election could be equally pivotal in that the outcome could determine the country's future trajectory," Morrison said.

Updated

Xi, Putin Open Talks In Moscow Expected To Center On Ukraine War

Chinese President Xi Jinping is greeted by a guard of honor upon his arrival in Moscow on March 20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have opened talks at the Kremlin as the latter arrived for his first visit to Russia in four years amid Moscow's deepening international isolation over its invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings with Xi, who arrived earlier on March 20, gives a rare opportunity to President Vladimir Putin to claim that Russia is not completely walled off from the rest of the world despite his being targeted by an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major topic of discussion between the two leaders during their meeting in Moscow.

Last month, China unveiled a peace plan for the Ukraine war that echoes Russian talking points including blaming the West for the unprovoked invasion. The Chinese plan called for a cease-fire and peace talks among other provisions.

Putin, speaking at the start of the meeting, welcomed China's plan.

"We are always open to negotiations," Putin told Xi. "We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiatives which we treat with respect, of course."

In an article published March 20 in the Russian publication Russian Gazette, Xi said that China has remained "impartial" and “actively promoted peace talks” but presented no clear proposals in regard to its peace plan.

Ahead of the visit, Putin touted his relationship with Xi and boasted that Moscow-Beijing relations have never been stronger.

In a March 19 article for The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Putin tried to portray Russia and China as close allies united against U.S. hegemony and NATO expansion, including into the Asia-Pacific region.

Putin papered over his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, falsely referring to it toward the end of the article as a domestic “crisis” provoked and fueled by NATO.

In his article, Putin thanked Xi for his “balanced” position on the war and said he is open to China playing a role in bringing it to an end.

Putin has tried to justify his war of aggression against Ukraine on various grounds, including claiming NATO expansion was a threat. In an attempt to connect their respective security concerns, Putin warned NATO was a threat to China as well.

In a statement published in Russian media ahead of the visit, Xi made only a thinly veiled mention of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying "there has been an all-round escalation of the Ukraine crisis."

While noting that China has made "several proposals" on ending the conflict, Xi said "there is no simple solution to a complex issue" and that both parties need to "embrace" a common vision to resolve the crisis.

Putin and Xi have met about 40 times in various capacities over the past 13 years.

Putin described the Russia-Chinese partnership as one of equals, saying there is no “leader and follower.” However, many experts say that China, the world’s second-largest economy and a quickly growing military power, is the clear senior partner in the relationship.

China’s senior status within the relationship is only growing as Russia’s economy suffers under the weight of Western sanctions, deepening the Kremlin's reliance on Beijing for trade, experts say.

China has become a crucial transit route for Russia to import goods banned by the West.

Economic ties, including Russian energy exports to China, will be another key topic of talks.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Battle For Bakhmut Grinds On As EU Ministers Discuss Ammunition For Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers fire at Russian forces at the front line near Bakhmut on March 18.

Ukrainian forces repelled fresh Russian attacks on Bakhmut over the past 24 hours, Kyiv said, as the battle for the ruined city in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk continued to exact a heavy toll on both sides while European Union ministers on March 20 prepared to discuss a 2 billion euro ($2.13 billion) plan to supply Ukraine with badly needed ammunition.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Russian forces launched 69 attacks over the past day on Bakhmut and the nearby locations of Avdiyivka, Lyman, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily report.

Russian forces kept shelling civilian settlements in Donetsk and Zaporyzhzhya regions, causing casualties among the civilian population and damaging infrastructure, the military said.

In the Moscow-occupied part of the southern region of Kherson, Russian forces manning checkpoints have been pushing civilians to take up Russian passports, threatening them with violence and imprisonment, the Ukrainian military report said.

The western part of Kherson, including Kherson city, was liberated by Ukrainian forces in November as Russians retreated across the Dnieper River.

In Brussels, EU foreign and defense ministers gather on March 20 to discuss plans to provide 2 billion euros worth of artillery shells to Ukraine under a deal that will include joint EU ammunition purchases.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell voiced hope a deal could be closed at the meeting.

"Together, foreign affairs and defense [ministers] will, I hope, finish the agreement on providing ammunition to Ukraine," Borrell told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is due to address the gathering via video link from Kyiv to brief the ministers on the current situation on the battlefield.

Kyiv has said it need 350,000 shells every month to stave off Russia's offensive in the east and to be able to prepare for a counteroffensive this spring.

EU member states have so far given $13 billion worth of military support to Ukraine since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion.

The bloc's foreign ministers are also due to address Moscow's accountability for forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia as well as measures to facilitate Ukrainian exports.

On March 17, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for his role in the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

Russia's FSB Raids Moscow Bar After Owners Held Fund-Raising Event For Ukrainian Group

Eyewitnesses said the FSB officers tried to humiliate the workers and customers in the bar, forcing them to sing songs by pro-war artists and paint the letter Z, a symbol of support for the invasion that opponents see as a fascistic emblem.

Officers from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) raided two Moscow bars, temporarily detaining dozens of workers and customers, after its owners last year allegedly held a fund-raising event for a Ukrainian group.

Members of the FSB anti-terrorism unit raided La Virgen Taqueria and Underdog on March 17, temporarily detaining at least 40 people, according to customers who were present. All were eventually let go. Police allegedly used force against some detainees, eyewitnesses said.

The owners allegedly held a fund-raising event last year for Kyiv Angeles, a Ukrainian volunteer organization that delivers food and medicine to Ukrainian citizens as well as equipment to the armed forces. The bar owners claim the funds went to a Ukrainian animal shelter.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has come down hard on any signs of domestic opposition to his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine or Russian sympathy toward Ukrainians resisting his war.

Last year he outlawed criticism of the invasion and the Russian military, and since then many citizens have been handed stiff prison terms for violating those laws.


Following the March 17 raid, Pavel Kosov, one of the bar owners, announced he was exiting his investment in the establishments.

He and other owners were detained and questioned last year over the fund-raiser, their lawyer said at the time. It is unclear why the FSB returned on March 17.

In a statement posted on Telegram by their lawyer Konstantin Yerokhin, the owners said they were demoralized and frightened and claimed some of their customers have received multiple threats.

"We are afraid of another raid and other negative developments and are ready to do everything necessary to avoid that," they said in their statement.

Eyewitnesses said the FSB officers tried to humiliate the workers and customers in the bar, forcing them to sing songs by pro-war artists and paint the letter Z, a symbol of support for the invasion that opponents see as a fascistic emblem.

The FSB officers took two payment terminals from the bars and other equipment containing financial information, their lawyer said.

Underdog said it would be closed for an undisclosed period of time while La Virgen Taqueria reopened on March 19 after being closed for two days.

Serbian President Says ICC Arrest Warrant For Putin Will Prolong The War

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the media in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on March 18.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has criticized an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court will prolong the war in Ukraine. "My question is now that you have accused him of the biggest war crimes, who are you going to talk to now?" Vucic told journalists on March 19. Unlike most European countries, Serbia has not imposed sanctions on Moscow after Putin launched his unprovoked war against Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Iran's Foreign Minister Says He Has Agreed To Meet Saudi Counterpart

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) greets his Qatari counterpart, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, in Tehran on January 29. In recent weeks, Iran has expressed interest in holding meetings with regional leaders.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 19 that he had agreed to meet his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, proposing three locations during a news conference. Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on March 10 to reestablish relations and reopen embassies within two months after years of hostility, following talks in China. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Pakistani Police File Terrorism Charges Against Ex-PM Khan

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks with reporters in Lahore on March 17.

Police in the Pakistani capital filed charges on March 19 against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, 17 of his aides, and scores of supporters, accusing them of terrorism and several other offenses after the ousted premier's followers clashed with security forces in Islamabad the previous day. For hours on March 18, Khan's followers clashed with police outside a court where the former prime minister was to appear in a graft case. Riot police wielded batons and fired tear gas while Khan's supporters threw fire bombs and hurled rocks at the officers. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Rights Activists Injured In Attack In Banja Luka Following LGBT Event Ban

Police gather outside the Transparency International office after an attack on activists on March 18.

Several rights activists in Banja Luka, a city in northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina, were injured after being assaulted late on March 18, hours after the police banned an LGBT event planned there, citing security concerns. Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the attack took place outside the offices of the Bosnian branch of the global anti-corruption group Transparency International in Banja Luka. Journalist and activist Vanja Stokic said she and other were attacked by a group of "hooligans" armed with sticks and bottles. One activist was taken to the hospital after being hit in the head, she said. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.

Updated

Polls In Kazakhstan Close In Parliamentary Elections As Authorities Look To Counter Unrest Threat

Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev votes during the parliamentary election in Astana on March 19.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Millions of voters in Kazakhstan cast ballots in snap parliamentary elections on March 19 as the Central Asian nation completed a political cycle after bloody unrest last year left at least 238 people dead.

Slightly more than half of the 12 million eligible voters went to the polls to choose lawmakers for the 98-seat lower house, according to the Central Election Committee. The parliamentary elections took place at the same time as local elections across the vast, oil-rich country.

According to three separate exit polls, the ruling Amanat party is in the lead with about 53 percent of the vote. At least three other parties have surpassed the 5 percent threshold in order to enter parliament, according to the three polls, with one poll showing as many as six parties winning seats.

The outgoing parliament had only three parties. The final results will be announced on March 20.

The vote follows a referendum in June that marked the end of special privileges for long-reigning former leader Nursultan Nazarbaev and snap presidential elections in November that handed 69-year-old incumbent Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev a fresh seven-year presidential term.

The early elections will be the first since 2004 in which candidates without party affiliations can stand for seats in the lower house, called the Mazhilis, as part of a package of electoral reforms initiated by Toqaev in the wake of the unrest in January 2022.

But only 29 of the parliament's seats are available to the single-mandate candidates, with the rest reserved for party list candidates.

With socioeconomic pressures such as strident inflation compounded by Russia’s war in Ukraine, authorities are aiming to prevent a repeat of the 2022 events now popularly termed Bloody January.

Earlier this week, Toqaev signed a law strengthening punishment for individuals calling for mass disorder -- a crime authorities often equate with calls for spontaneous protests, which are illegal.

According to the law, the punishment for such actions will rise from three years to up to seven years in prison, with the possibility of early release on parole excluded for individuals convicted on the charge.

Toqaev has admitted issuing a "shoot to kill" order to troops last year when peaceful protests against a fuel price spike gave way to violent clashes in cities across the country.

The return of single-mandate district races has added some dynamism to a ballot dominated by system candidates in a country where no elections have been deemed free or fair by international election monitors since Kazakhstan gained independence more than 30 years ago.

But several opposition-minded figures have been excluded from races at the parliament and city council level on administrative pretexts, while others complained of government pressure on their campaigns.

Of the seven parties competing, the most well-established is Amanat, a renamed version of the Nur Otan party bossed by octogenarian Nazarbaev, who remained powerful even after stepping down and allowing Toqaev to succeed him in 2019.

Last year’s crisis effectively ended the political career of Nazarbaev, who relinquished his remaining positions to Toqaev, while denying rumors of a rift with his protege.

Two new parties, Respublica and Baitaq, became the first parties in two decades to be allowed to officially register in the months before the vote.

But like the other pro-establishment parties on the ballot, neither has been critical of Toqaev during the campaign.

Updated

Ukrainian Officials Express Outrage Over Putin's Surprise Visit To City of Mariupol After Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who heads construction and regional development, as he visits the city of Mariupol in Russian-controlled Ukraine on March 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unannounced nighttime visit to Mariupol, the occupied Ukrainian city that symbolizes Kyiv's fierce resistance to Moscow’s invasion, in a possible show of defiance after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a war for his arrest.

Putin flew by helicopter to the port city, which had been destroyed by Russian bombardments and heavy fighting, for a "working visit," Russian state media reported on March 19. He visited several sites in Mariupol and spoke with residents, the reports said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The trip was the first by Putin to a region of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces after the launch of his full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. Putin’s trips are almost always highly choreographed by the Kremlin to boost his image at home.

The battle for Mariupol captured international attention as Ukrainian fighters, encircled and holed up in a massive metals plant, heroically defended the city for three months before surrendering in May 2022 as they ran low on food and medicine.

But the battle also highlighted for the world Russia's brutality as its military launched strikes on civilian infrastructure, killing what is believed to be thousands of Mariupol residents, and triggering accusations of war crimes.

In two of the most infamous cases, Russia shelled a theater used as a bomb shelter, killing as many as 600 people, as well as a maternity ward.

Putin’s visit to the symbolic city sparked anger in Kyiv and in the West.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement that Putin chose to visit at night to hide from Russian TV viewers the destruction he wrought on Mariupol and the ensuing desolation it has caused.

Once a bustling port city with a population of half a million, Mariupol is now home to just about 90,000 people, many of them too old or too ill to leave the ravaged city.

The outskirts of Mariupol are filled with the graves of those killed in the fighting.

"The criminal always return to the crime scene," Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said in a tweet about Putin's visit to Mariupol. "The murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city and [its] graves. Cynicism and lack of remorse."

Amid the intense Russian bombing and blockage, some Mariupol residents managed to escape to Kyiv-controlled territory. Others went to Russia, many forcibly so, including children.

The alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia is at the center of the ICC's unprecedented March 17 warrant for the arrest of Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, a Russian children's rights official.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children," the ICC said in a statement on March 17.

The warrant means Putin could be arrested if he enters any of the court's 123 member states.

The Kremlin dismissed the warrant, arguing that it is void because Russia is not in the ICC's jurisdiction. Ukraine is also not a member of the ICC.

Putin’s Mariupol visit comes a day after he toured Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.

Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea following Kyiv's overthrow of Moscow-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 was the start of a new phase of Kremlin aggression against Ukraine that would culminate with the full-scale invasion of the country last year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has vowed to regain all territory captured by Russia, including Crimea. Ukraine is preparing a new, major counteroffensive that experts say could begin as early as next month.

In the meantime, Ukraine and Russia have agreed to extend a deal allowing the safe passage of grain exports through Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea.

WATCH: Standing just behind the front line in Donetsk, the former industrial city of Avdiyivka lies in ruins. As Russian shelling continues, the few remaining residents say they're not going anywhere.

Ukrainian Forces Fight Off 'Unlimited' Russian Attacks On The Donetsk Front
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:36 0:00

Following several days of talks, Ukraine announced the deal had been extended for 120 days, while Russia said it had agreed to a 60-day extension.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on 22 July 2022, has been extended," the United Nations said on March 18 in a statement, referring to the initial agreement brokered last summer by the UN and Turkey with Russia and Ukraine.

The UN statement said the deal had allowed the supply of 25 million tons of grain and foodstuffs, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilize markets. The statement also thanked the Turkish government for its diplomatic and operational support of the deal.

Britain's Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin that the temporary switch to an alternative regional capital in the Zaporizhzhya region -- one of four illegally annexed by Russia last year -- is "likely a tacit acknowledgment" that Russia is failing to meet its objectives in the near future.

On March 3, authorities in the Russian-controlled region issued a decree saying that occupied Melitopol would temporarily replace Zaporizhzhya city as the regional capital until it was controlled by Russia, Britain's Defense Ministry said in an update on Twitter, adding that Russia has never occupied Zaporizhzhya city, which is approximately 35 kilometers from the current front line.

"The quiet declaration of an alternative capital is likely tacit acknowledgement within the Russian system that its forces are highly unlikely to seize previously planned major objectives in the near future," the intelligence update said on March 19.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Current time, Reuters, AFP and dpa

Montenegro Votes For President Against Backdrop Of Crisis, Stalemate

The March 19 vote is the first national election in the tiny Adriatic nation since the narrow defeat of President Milo Djukanovic's party to a mostly pro-Serb coalition in 2020 spelled the end of an era but failed to establish a workable majority.

Montenegro's voters are casting presidential ballots on March 19 in a race between a long-dominant incumbent and a half-dozen challengers that could prove pivotal to whether the ex-Yugoslav republic can escape two years of political stalemate.

It's the first national election in the tiny Adriatic nation since the narrow defeat of President Milo Djukanovic's party to a mostly pro-Serb coalition in 2020 spelled the end of an era but failed to establish a workable majority to move the country forward.

Djukanovic feuded with two subsequent governments and resisted naming a third as he jockeyed to reestablish supremacy for his populist Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), culminating in the sudden dissolution of parliament on March 16.

"Few presidential elections in Montenegro have been as important as this one," said Kenneth Morrison, a specialist in modern Southeastern European history and politics at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom.

The last comparable national choice came in 1997, he suggested, when, as prime minister, Djukanovic unseated a staunch ally of Slobodan Milosevic for the presidency to put Montenegro on the path toward independence in 2006.

"This election could be equally pivotal in that the outcome could determine the country's future trajectory," Morrison said.

Djukanovic, 61, has effectively led Montenegro as president or prime minister since 1991, when the DPS arose as the successor to the local Communist League.

He won outright five years ago with nearly 54 percent of the vote, and most experts say he is almost certain to advance to a second-round runoff on April 2 for a final presidential term under the constitution.

Since it exited its political union with Serbia and then joined NATO in 2017, Montenegro has stalled on the kind of reforms that once made it a front-runner for the next wave of EU enlargement.

It has struggled to put aside ethno-national divisions, including over identification as Serb versus Montenegrin, as well as tensions in relations with the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, politicians in Belgrade, and pro-Russians in and outside the region.

Polling in Montenegro is frequently unreliable, although some surveys have suggested that broad opposition to Djukanovic far outweighs support.

He is running on the slogan "Our President," but his three decades in power have been dogged by perceptions of rampant organized crime and corruption.

Many observers question whether Djukanovic or any other candidate can successfully bridge the 620,000-strong population's divisions.

Vesko, a voter in Podgorica who did not want his last name published, called it "a circus of a campaign."

"Everyone promises something, everything," he told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "And everyone is sinful."

One of the most recognizable challengers is Andrija Mandic, a veteran politician who heads the right-wing New Serb Democracy party and is supported by the pro-Serb Democratic Front that helped unseat Djukanovic's DPS two and a half years ago.

Mandic was accused alongside Russians and Serbians of plotting a failed coup attempt in 2016, although an appellate court eventually threw out all 13 convictions.

Montenegro has long been one of the Balkans' most conspicuous theaters for pro-Russian disinformation.

Another candidate, pro-NATO and pro-EU Social Democratic lawmaker Draginja Vuksanovic Stankovic, won 8 percent of the vote as a presidential candidate in 2018. She is the lone woman in the race.

The pro-EU Europe Now movement is fielding candidate Jakov Milatovic, a former economic minister campaigning on boosting prosperity in a country that averaged nearly 3 percent growth for two decades before huge volatility the past three years. Europe Now shot into the national spotlight with a strong showing in last year's local elections in the capital, Podgorica, within months of being formed.

Aleksa Becic, a 35-year-old former speaker of parliament from the centrist Democratic Montenegro party, is another pro-EU candidate.

Goran Danilovic heads the conservative United Montenegro party, which has a single seat in parliament.

Internet influencer Jovan Radulovic is the political outsider among candidates and has largely avoided staking out traditional political turf.

Djukanovic set June 11 for snap parliamentary elections after his dissolution of the 81-seat Skupstina.

The DPS this time hopes to erase the razor-thin one-seat margin that the Democratic Front and its allies mustered in 2020.

Montenegrin civil activist Aleksandar Dragicevic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the presidential campaigns were as important for their success in winning over committed voters ahead of early parliamentary elections as picking a president.

Zelenskiy Announces Sanctions On Hundreds Of Individuals, Including Syrian President, Iranian Drone Makers

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced sanctions against hundreds of individuals and companies, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranians associated with the production of Shahed drones.

Zelenskiy said on March 18 that most of the more than 400 individuals and companies designated for sanctions are Russian and are involved in the defense industry, but Iranian and Syrian individuals -- "those who help terror" -- are also among the newly blacklisted.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

According to a decree issued by Zelenskiy, the sanctions against Assad are imposed for 10 years. The new sanctions also list Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

In addition, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' drone force was placed on the sanctions list. Sanctions were also introduced against other Iranian citizens.

Ukraine severed diplomatic relations with Syria last year. Assad recently visited Moscow and declared his full support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling Russia's war against Ukraine a struggle "with "old and new Nazis."

Russia has backed the Syrian Army in its fight against rebel forces in northern Syria, and Assad has said the presence of Russian troops in Syria is legitimate as his government has requested Moscow's support.

Zelenskiy's sanctions decrees list 141 legal entities, including companies from Russia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

Zelenskiy said the Ukrainian sanctions are part of the global pressure on Russia.

"We study in depth each of our sanctioning steps," he said on Telegram. The sanctions are aimed at "all those who produce weapons for terror against Ukraine, who help Russia incite aggression, in particular by supplying Shahed drones, and who support Russia’s destruction of international law."

Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure, including electrical substations and water facilities.

Iran Court Sentences Two To Death Over Deadly Shrine Attack

Workers clean up the scene following an armed attack at the Shah Cheragh mausoleum in the Iranian city of Shiraz on October 26, 2022.

An Iranian court has handed death sentences to two men over an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in Iran that killed 15 people in October and was claimed by the militant group Islamic State (IS), the official news agency IRNA reported on March 18. Fars Province judiciary head Kazem Mousavi said the two men had been found guilty of charges including "spreading corruption on Earth" and acting against national security, IRNA reported, adding that the sentences can be appealed. The men are alleged to have collaborated with IS members in the attack. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

Updated

UN Says Black Sea Grain Export Deal Extended, But Ukraine, Russia Disagree Over How Long

A grain terminal in the seaport in Odesa

The Black Sea Grain Initiative -- a deal allowing the safe passage of grain exports through Ukraine's ports on the Black Sea -- has been extended following days of talks, but Ukraine and Russia disagree over the length of the extension.

Ukraine said the deal had been extended for 120 days, while Russia said it had agreed to a 60-day extension.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on 22 July 2022, has been extended," the United Nations said on March 18 in a statement, referring to the initial agreement brokered last summer by the UN and Turkey with Russia and Ukraine.

The UN statement said the deal had allowed the supply of 25 million tons of grain and foodstuffs, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilize markets. The statement also thanked the Turkish government for its diplomatic and operational support of the deal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also announced that the deal had been extended without saying how long.

"The deal for the grain corridor was due to expire today. As a result of our talks with the two sides, we have secured an extension to this deal," Erdogan said in a speech in the western city of Canakkale.

"This deal is of vital importance for the global food supply. I thank Russia and Ukraine, who didn't spare their efforts for a new extension, as well as the United Nations secretary general," Erdogan said in remarks carried on Turkish television.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister of Reconstruction Oleksandr Kubrakov said the extension would last for 120 days.

Kubrakov thanked Erdogan, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, and "all our partners for sticking to the agreements." Due to the joint efforts, 25 million tons of grain had delivered to world markets, he said on Twitter.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow agreed to a 60-day extension of a deal.

"We are seeing reports from parties to the 'grain deal' that the deal has been extended for 120 days," Zakharkova said in comments carried by Interfax. "We have repeatedly stated...that the Russian side has notified all parties to the deal that it is extending the deal for 60 days."

Moscow proposed the 60-day extension citing concerns that a parallel agreement on Russian food and fertilizer exports was not being respected.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on March 17 that it was vital for global food security that both agreements continue and be fully implemented.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was set to last into late November and was then renewed for 120 days to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The 120-day period was set to expire on March 18.

Ukraine and Russia are important suppliers of food and fertilizer throughout the world. Before the war, Ukraine exported approximately three-quarters of the grain it produced. According to the data of the European Commission, about 90 percent of these exports were shipped from Black Sea ports.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG