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China's Xi Calls For Greater Cooperation With Turkmenistan On Natural Gas

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov shake hands at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 6.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov shake hands at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 6.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on January 6 that he wants more cooperation with Turkmenistan on energy, Chinese state television reported. Turkmenistan is China's single largest supplier of piped natural gas. "Natural gas cooperation is the cornerstone of the China-Turkmenistan relationship," Xi told Turkmenistan's President Serdar Berdymukhammedov, who is in Beijing on a two-day visit. Chinese media reports of their meetings did not give any specific details of future energy cooperation. Both leaders had also discussed the topic when they met in September on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

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Russia Adds Journalist Marshenkulova To Wanted List

Zalina Marshenkulova (file photo)
Zalina Marshenkulova (file photo)

Russia's Interior Ministry on April 17 added Zalina Marshenkulova, an activist journalist in exile, to its wanted list on unspecified charges. Last week, media reports said Marshenkulova was charged in absentia with justifying terrorism, adding that the charge stemmed from her online post last year in which she called the death of pro-Kremlin blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, who was killed in a blast in a restaurant in St. Petersburg after an explosive device in a gift handed to him detonated, "appropriate." Marshenkulova, a native of Russia's mostly Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria region, has a Telegram channel, Women’s Power, with around 30,000 subscribers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Crew Of Ship Seized By Iran Safe, Operator MSC Says

MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, which is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, which is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

The 25 crew members of the MSC Aries, which was seized by Iran on April 13, are safe, shipping firm MSC said, adding that discussions with Iranian authorities were in progress to secure their earliest release. "We are also working with the Iranian authorities to have the cargo discharged," the company said. Portugal's Foreign Ministry summoned Iran's ambassador to condemn a weekend attack on Israel by Tehran and to demand the immediate release of the Portuguese-flagged container ship. MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

Council Of Europe Assembly Recommends Extending Invitation To Kosovo

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recommended late on April 16 that Kosovo be invited to become a member of the Council of Europe and will monitor its fulfilment of an "extensive list of commitments and obligations as from its accession." A final decision on the move will be made by the Committee of Ministers, the organization's executive body made up of foreign ministers from member states. "Membership should catalyze momentum for Kosovo to continue to make progress in strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law," PACE said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Yerevan Assures Iran That South Caucasus Won't Turn Into Field Of 'Geopolitical Competition,' Envoy Says

Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Mehdi Sobhani (file photo)
Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Mehdi Sobhani (file photo)

Iran says it has received assurances from Armenia regarding its concerns about the potential escalation of geopolitical competition in the South Caucasus stemming from the Armenian leader's recent high-level discussions with U.S. and EU officials in Brussels.

Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Mehdi Sobhani said on April 16 that Tehran had a discussion with Armenian authorities about the trilateral meeting on April 5 between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Western powers said the meeting was focused on helping Armenia increase its resilience and diversify its economy, which is still heavily dependent on Russia.

Sobhani said Armenian authorities told him that the meeting was "not directed against any third country" and was meant to "strengthen the economy of Armenia and to receive humanitarian aid and support for those displaced from Karabakh."

Iran does not oppose Armenia’s efforts to develop its economy and solve the problems of the people displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, Sobhani said at a news conference in Yerevan. This is Armenia's right, he said.

"Our concern is that Armenia and the [South] Caucasus should not turn into an arena for geopolitical competition and that the development of Armenia's foreign relations should not be at the expense of other countries," Sobhani said.

"And the Armenian authorities have informed us that the diversification of their country's foreign policy is not directed against Armenia-Iran relations."

The Iranian ambassador also defined the "extra-regional forces" whose intervention in the South Caucasus would be considered dangerous by Tehran. These would be forces unrelated to any security or geopolitical issues of the region, he said.

“That is, they come here from across the ocean and try to make decisions for the people of this region,” Sobhani said.

Asked whether members of the EU mission who have been monitoring the Armenian-Azerbaijani border since last year are considered "extra-regional forces," the Iranian ambassador said, "Yes, some European countries and the United States are."

Meanwhile, the Iranian diplomat said that Tehran's "red lines" regarding borders in the South Caucasus have not changed.

"Iran has expressed its opposition to the change of internationally recognized borders at the highest level, at the level of the head of the country, and it cannot be ignored," he said.

"We are categorically against the change of any geopolitical and internationally recognized borders. If there are problems on the border, they should be solved on the basis of dialogue, mutual understanding, with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries respected," Sobhani said.

Baku and Yerevan have been conducting negotiations over their respective borders for decades, but the process took on new urgency after Azerbaijan recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh amid a swift military offensive in September 2023.

Unlike in the past, the talks are now being conducted one-on-one without Russian, U.S., or EU mediators.

Countries In Czech-Led Initiative Pledge Enough To Buy 500,000 Shells For Ukraine

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala waves as he arrives for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on April 15.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala waves as he arrives for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on April 15.

WASHINGTON -- Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on April 16 that 20 countries had pledged enough money to buy 500,000 artillery shells under the Czech Republic's international fundraising drive to buy badly needed ammunition for the Ukrainian Army.

"I am glad that at this moment about 20 countries already joined our initiative -- from Canada, Germany and [from] the Netherlands to Poland," Fiala said in a speech in Washington.

"Thanks to them we can provide around 500,000 rounds of artillery ammunition. We believe that more deliveries will follow."

Ukraine has been pleading for its Western allies to supply more ammunition as troops on the battlefield run short with Russian forces outfiring them at a rate of about five-to-one.

The supply is dwindling, the top U.S. military commander in Europe told Congress last week, and the rate will go to 10-to-one in a matter of weeks.

European Union members promised 1 million artillery shells by the end of March, but their production capacities are limited and the countries fell short of delivering.

The Czech government then announced it would collect a substantial amount of shells -- some 800,000 in total -- for Ukraine from third countries outside the European Union.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, Fiala said there was no reason why the 20 donor countries in the next 12 months could not help deliver 1 million more beyond the 500,000 already covered.

"I want to highlight that this initiative is not a onetime project. Our goal is to create a long-term system of ammunition supplies for heavy weapons. This will directly help to change the situation on the front line," he added.

The initiative can help cover Ukraine's ammunition needs at least until Europe's own defense industries can produce enough ammunition, he said.

Fiala didn’t include details on the amount of money pledged to acquire artillery shells, but Tomas Kopecny, Czech commissioner for the reconstruction of Ukraine, told Czech Radio on April 16 that the sum was roughly $3 billion.

The Czech prime minister also said that for too long many European countries took their security for granted, which led to very low spending on defense. The situation is completely different now, he said, because of the "wakeup call" Europe received when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

"Most countries in the West want to pay. Europe now knows that it cannot use only soft power," he said. "It learned that hard power must be used, not only for global balance but also for out security."

With reporting by AFP
Updated

At Least 10 Dead In Ukraine As Zelenskiy Laments Lack Of Air Defenses

Rescuers work at the site of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv on April 17.
Rescuers work at the site of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv on April 17.

At least 10 people have died and several were injured in a Russian air strike on the city of Chernihiv, an attack President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said couldn't be thwarted because Ukraine lacked "sufficient" air defenses due to dwindling supplies from allies, especially the United States.

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.

Vyacheslav Chaus, governor of the Chernihiv region, said the air attack by Russian forces came after the alert was declared at 8:50 a.m. local time on April 17.

Chernihiv Mayor Oleksandr Lomako said the strikes hit local civil and social infrastructure in the city, which lies about 145 kilometers north of Kyiv.

It has been hit several times since Russian tanks swept into Ukraine from nearby Belarusian territory in February 2022.

"Unfortunately, the death toll may rise. This would not have happened if Ukraine had received enough air-defense equipment and if the world's determination to counter Russian terror was also sufficient," Zelenskiy said in a post on Telegram.

"Determination matters. Support matters. Ukrainian determination is enough. There needs to be sufficient commitment from partners and sufficient support to reflect it," he added.

Russia has drastically stepped up its air attacks on Ukraine as Kyiv's forces run low on air defenses and ammunition while desperately needed U.S. help remains stuck in the House of Representatives due to Republican opposition.

Ukrainian officials have desperately pleaded with Washington and its allies to step up military supplies and aid, saying Ukraine's air defenses were critical for the protection of its neighbors as well.

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson has been seeking the votes needed to pass some $62 billion in aid for Ukraine, but many hard-right Republicans, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, the party's presumptive nominee to run against President Joe Biden in a November election, have been skeptical about assisting Kyiv in its fight against Russia.

Confronted with a worsening lack of enough air defense systems, weapons, and ammunition as Western aid dries up, Kyiv has increasingly resorted to air and naval drone strikes deep inside Russian territory, targeting both military installations and critical oil-refining capabilities.

In Ukraine's Russian-occupied Crimea region, a series of explosions rang out early on April 17 in the area of the military airfield in the northern city of Dzhankoy.

The Telegram channel Astra showed several videos from local residents that showed flames shooting skyward amid large plumes of smoke at what reportedly was the airfield.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Russian authorities in Crimea did not immediately comment on the reports.

Updated

Facing Republican Revolt, House Speaker Pushes Ahead On U.S. Aid For Ukraine, Other Allies

House Speaker Mike Johnson (file photo)
House Speaker Mike Johnson (file photo)

House Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana) pushed back on April 16 against mounting anger within his own party over proposed U.S. security aid for Ukraine, Israel, and other allies, and rejected a call to step aside or risk a vote to oust him from office.

After meeting with fellow Republicans, Johnson said he was "not resigning" and called the motion to oust him "absurd" as he seeks the votes needed to pass the aid for U.S. allies.

At least two far-right Republicans have threatened to remove Johnson as speaker if he allows a vote on assistance for Ukraine.

Many other hard-right Republicans, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, the party’s presumptive nominee to run against President Joe Biden in the November election, have been skeptical about assisting Kyiv in its fight against Russia and fiercely oppose sending billions more dollars to Ukraine.

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.

Democrats say they will not rush to judgment on a new proposal from Johnson to consider national security assistance for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately, rather than as one bill.

They previously stressed that the best and quickest strategy would be for the House to pass the $95 billion package of security assistance approved by the Senate in February.

"I am reserving judgment on what will come out of the House until we see more about the substance of the proposal and the process by which the proposal will proceed," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) said on April 16.

Schumer said he hoped to get details of the speaker's proposal later on April 16, adding that "time is of the essence."

The leaders of several House committees endorsed Johnson's plan.

"There is nothing our adversaries would love more than if Congress were to fail to pass critical national security aid. Speaker Johnson has produced a plan that will boost U.S. national security interests in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific," said a joint statement from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (Republican-Alabama), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Republican-Oklahoma), House Appropriations defense subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (Republican-California), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (Republican-Texas), and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner (Republican-Ohio).

"We don’t have time to spare when it comes to our national security. We need to pass this aid package this week," the statement said.

Johnson said on April 15 that the House would consider the aid bills separately this week, but it could take many more weeks for the bills to become law.

If the House were to pass aid to Ukraine, the bill would go back for a vote in the Senate, which is due to leave Washington next week for a two-week recess.

The texts of the separate bills have not been release, and it also was not clear which country's assistance the House would consider first.

Republicans have already tried to push through aid for Israel without any aid for Ukraine. Democrats in the House have blocked those efforts.

Johnson told Fox News that in addition to the three separate bills for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, there would be a fourth bill including additional sanctions on Russia and Iran as well as the REPO Act, a provision regarding the seizure of Russian assets to help Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

EU To Begin Work On Expanding Sanctions Against Iran As Israeli War Cabinet Meets Again

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU needs to coordinate the European response to the first-ever attack on Israel launched from the territory of Iran. (file photo)
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU needs to coordinate the European response to the first-ever attack on Israel launched from the territory of Iran. (file photo)

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says he will request that the EU’s diplomatic service start work on an expansion of sanctions in response to Tehran's weekend attack on Israel.

Borrell made the comment on April 16 after an emergency video conference of EU foreign ministers called to discuss the repercussions of the attack and as Israel's war cabinet was set to meet again to decide its response to Iran's weekend attack.

Borrell said the EU needs to coordinate the European response to the first-ever attack on Israel launched from the territory of Iran, which he said "certainly represents a major escalation of an already very tense situation in the region."

The ministers "took a strong stance asking all actors in the region to move away from the abyss" during their video conference, he said.

Israeli military chief of staff Herzi Halevi said on April 15 that the launch of more than 300 missiles and drones from Iran at Israeli territory "will be met with a response" but gave no details.

The attack caused no deaths and little damage, but it has increased fears that violence will spread beyond the current war in the Gaza Strip and throughout the Middle East.

Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an air strike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 attributed to Israel. At the same time Tehran signaled that it did not seek further escalation.

President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekend that the United States would not participate in an Israeli counterstrike.

Washington instead said it would strive to toughen economic and political sanctions against Iran.

 'Everyone Is Against Us': Iranian RFE/RL Listeners' War Worries
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Meanwhile, Israel has begun writing to 32 countries to ask them to place sanctions on Iran's missile program and join Washington in designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.

Earlier on April 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi by phone about what the Kremlin called "retaliatory measures taken by Iran." Putin urged all sides to refrain from action that would trigger a new confrontation, which would be fraught with catastrophic consequences for the region, the Kremlin said.

In his first publicly aired comments on Iran's attack, Putin said the root cause of the current instability in the Middle East was the unresolved conflict between Palestinians and Israel.

Raisi's office gave a slightly different interpretation of the call, saying Putin said Iran's response was "the best way to punish the aggressor and show the wisdom and rationality of Iran's leaders."

The statement also said Raisi declared that Iran would respond more severely, extensively, and painfully than ever to any action against Iran's interests.

Also on April 16, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "the main one responsible" for Iran's first direct attack on Israel.

"Those who have been silent for months about Israel's aggressive attitude immediately condemned the Iranian response," said Erdogan, who regularly criticizes Israel and its leadership. "But it's Netanyahu himself who is the first who should be condemned."

He said Israel's attack in Damascus violated international law and "was the straw that broke the camel's back."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Poland Deports Tajik Citizen With Links To Islamic State

(Illustrative photo)
(Illustrative photo)

A Tajik citizen has been deported from Poland on suspicion of "terrorist activities" and links to the Islamic State group that claimed responsibility for a deadly attack at a concert hall outside Moscow last month. The man, whose identity was not disclosed, was "a member of the terrorist organization Islamic State," the Polish security agency said on April 16. The man has been involved in terrorist activities for several years" and had links to members of Islamic State-Khorasan, the group that claimed the March 22 attack at the concert hall. The suspect was deported last week.

U.S. To Hit Iran With New Sanctions, Yellen Says; U.S. Looking To Use Russian Assets For Ukraine

The new sanctions, which come in response to Iran's April 13 attack on Israel, could seek to reduce Iran's capacity to export oil.
The new sanctions, which come in response to Iran's April 13 attack on Israel, could seek to reduce Iran's capacity to export oil.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on April 16 warned that the United States intends to hit Iran with new sanctions over its unprecedented attack on Israel, and these actions could seek to reduce Iran's capacity to export oil.

"I fully expect that we will take additional sanctions action against Iran in the coming days," Yellen told a news conference in Washington.

The United States has taken previous action to contain Iran's "destabilizing" behavior by diminishing its ability to export oil, she said.

"Clearly, Iran is continuing to export some oil. There may be more that we could do."

The United States and its Group of Seven (G7) allies are continuing to explore a range of possibilities to unlock the value of nearly $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on April 16.

She said Ukraine needed ongoing streams of support, and that is driving the quest to monetize the frozen Russian assets.

She also said the United States and the G7 were absolutely committed to Ukraine's support and urged Congress to approve military aid, calling it "a humanitarian and moral imperative."

With reporting by Reuters

Fire At Zoo In Russian-Occupied Crimea Leaves More Than 200 Animals Dead

The Russian-installed Investigative Committee for Crimea reported that a five-story building housing lemurs, chameleons, parrots, turtles, large snakes, and other animals burned to the ground. (Illustrative photo)
The Russian-installed Investigative Committee for Crimea reported that a five-story building housing lemurs, chameleons, parrots, turtles, large snakes, and other animals burned to the ground. (Illustrative photo)

More than 200 animals died on April 16 in a fire at a zoo in Yevpatoria in Russian-occupied Crimea. A zoo representative was quoted by TASS as saying that all 200 animals in the Tropicpark Zoo died, but RIA Novosti reported that Emergencies Ministry employees managed to save two bears. A zoo employee was also rescued, according to RIA Novosti. The Russian-installed Investigative Committee for Crimea reported that a five-story building housing lemurs, chameleons, parrots, turtles, large snakes, and other animals burned to the ground. The preliminary cause of the fire is an electrical short circuit in refrigerator wiring. To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Ukrainian Official Estimates 37,000 People Missing Since February 2022

Relatives join a rally in support of soldiers and civilians who have gone missing missing or been captured, in Kyiv on March 16.
Relatives join a rally in support of soldiers and civilians who have gone missing missing or been captured, in Kyiv on March 16.

Ukraine said on April 16 it had identified almost 37,000 people who have not been accounted for since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. Ukraine's human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said the figure includes children, civilians, and military personnel, and the true number “may be much higher.” The number includes about 1,700 people that he said Ukraine and the Red Cross had identified as "illegally detained" by Russia. Calculating the exact number of missing is difficult because Russian forces still occupy around one-fifth of the country and neither side regularly releases data on military casualties.

Scholz Urges China To Use 'Influence' On Russia To End Ukraine War

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 4, 2022.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 4, 2022.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he urged Chinese President Xi Jinping to press Russia to end its "senseless" war in Ukraine during a visit to Beijing on April 16. Following his meeting with Xi, Scholz said on X that China's word “carries weight in Russia." He therefore asked Xi “to influence Russia so that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin finally calls off his senseless campaign, withdraws his troops, and ends this terrible war," he said. While China says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, it has been criticized for refusing to condemn Moscow for its offensive.

Zelenskiy Signs New Law On Military Mobilization In Ukraine

Newly recruited soldiers celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv on September 25, 2023.
Newly recruited soldiers celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv on September 25, 2023.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on April 16 signed into law legislation on mobilization is expected to address a shortfall in troops that by requiring men to update their draft data with the authorities. The legislation also increases payments to volunteers and has provisions to allow some convicts to serve. Though lawmakers watered down some amendments to draft dodging, the law does allow for punishment of those convicted of avoiding service. Since a major Ukrainian counteroffensive last year failed to make significant gains, Russia has used its significant advantage in manpower and equipment to erode those gains in the east. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Top Montenegro Law Enforcement Officials In Pretrial Detention For Alleged Ties To Organized Crime

Police escort former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic in detention on April 14.
Police escort former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic in detention on April 14.

A Montenegro court has ordered the pretrial detention for up to 30 days of former chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic and former deputy police director Zoran Lazovic, who were arrested on April 14 in a corruption scandal with links to the organized crime that has shaken the tiny Adriatic republic.

"Their detention was ordered due to the risk of their escape and possible influence on the witnesses," Marija Rakovic, a spokeswoman for the High Court in Podgorica, told RFE/RL on April 16.

The Special State Prosecutor's Office said the two are charged with forming and participating in a criminal organization and abuse of office.

Lazovic is accused of creating the criminal organization whose members are alleged to have been Katnic, who was Montenegro's chief special prosecutor from 2015 until February 2022, ex-special prosecutor Sasa Cadjenovic, and Lazovic's son, ex-National Security Agency (ANB) agent Petar Lazovic.

Zoran Piperovic, Lazovic's lawyer, said his client was accused of lifting a ban on entry into Montenegro in 2021 of two Serbian members of Montenegro's notorious Kavac crime clan, Veljko Belivuk and Marko Miljkovic. Katnic allegedly aided Lazovic.

After a 10-day stay in Montenegro, Belivuk and Miljkovic were arrested in February 2021 upon their return to Serbia, where they are currently on trial for several murders they apparently boasted about to members of their criminal group.

In Montenegro, the two clan members are suspected of kidnapping a member of a rival clan in October 2020, who they then handed over to other members of the Kavac group.

The kidnapped man, Mileta Radulovic, a member of the Skaljari clan, was found dead after two months of torture.

Caidenovic was arrested in December 2022 for alleged links to the Kavac clan.

Petar Lazovic was an ANB agent until July 2022, when he was arrested on charges of drug smuggling.

Cadjenovic and the younger Lazovic have been in custody since their arrest.

The Special State Prosecutor’s Office on April 14 said the investigation against Lazovic and Katnic had gone on for several months in cooperation with the Europol, The EU agency for law enforcement.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milojko Spajic hailed the arrests, saying he backed the fight against corruption and organized crime -- two issues that have long plagued Montenegro.

President Jakov Milatovic said the arrests marked a step on the road of improving the rule of law in Montenegro.

Former Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic who, while in office had accused Katnic and Lazovic of being “at the top of the criminal pyramid in Montenegro,” also welcomed the arrests.

With reporting by Balkan Insight

Israeli War Cabinet To Meet For Third Time On Response To Iran's Attack

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) attends a war cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv on April 14.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) attends a war cabinet meeting at the Kirya in Tel Aviv on April 14.

Israel's war cabinet was set to meet for the third time in three days on April 16, an official said, to decide on a response to Iran's first-ever direct attack, amid international pressure to avoid further escalating conflict in the Middle East. Military chief of staff Herzi Halevi had promised that Saturday night's launch of more than 300 missiles, cruise missiles and drones from Iran into Israeli territory "will be met with a response," but gave no details. While the attack caused no deaths and little damage, it has increased concerns that violence rooted in the Gaza war is spreading.

Wave Of Complaints Follows Police Hijab Crackdown In Tehran

Iranian women walk on a Tehran street without wearing the mandatory head scarves.
Iranian women walk on a Tehran street without wearing the mandatory head scarves.

The stricter enforcement of the mandatory hijab law by Tehran police has prompted a wave of complaints from Iranians who say police are using aggressive and sometimes violent tactics in their treatment of alleged violators.

Tehran Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced a ratcheting up of enforcement of the new "hijab and chastity" bill from April 13 even though the legislation had yet to be approved by the country's Guardian Council.

According to reports, some citizens said their car windows were smashed by baton-wielding officers as they sought violators, while others recounted aggressive confrontations with state motorcycle patrols.

It was also reported that Nafiseh Latifian and Negar Abedzadeh, the wife and daughter of legendary soccer goalkeeper Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, were among those detained on Tehran's Fereshteh Street for allegedly violating hijab regulations.

"The two were detained for causing tensions and clashing with officers," the Fars News Agency, which is aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported.

Even though the Guardian Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step in it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardian Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Ahmadreza Radan, a senior police official, discussed the stepped-up measures, telling the Mehr news agency that in cases involving vehicles, a warning is issued on the first offense.

"On the second, the vehicle is detained on site and then impounded," he added.

Radan also spoke about the Noor Plan, which targets businesses and individuals accused of failing to adhere to hijab norms. He described it as a response to demands from "devout citizens," with businesses facing closure for repeated violations.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the headscarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

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

Organizer Of 'Nearly Naked' Party Charged With Discrediting Russia's Armed Forces

Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva (file photo)
Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva (file photo)

The organizer of the so-called "Nearly Naked" party, Russian blogger Anastasia Ivleyeva, has been charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces and will face a hearing on April 25 at Moscow's Tver district court. It was not immediately clear how Ivleyeva broke the law. Ivleyeva was an organizer of the party at the Mutabor night club in December, which sparked outrage among lawmakers and pro-Kremlin groups. The Lefortovo district court in Moscow did not charge Ivleyeva but ruled in January that the party had "propagated nontraditional sexual relations." Propagating gay relations is a crime in Russia. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Ukrainian Nuclear Plant 'Dangerously Close' To Accident, Atomic Watchdog Chief Warns

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi. (file photo)
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi. (file photo)

Recent drone attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine have raised the risk of a nuclear accident to a new level, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency warned on April 15, calling on the UN Security Council to do everything in its power to minimize the risk.

"We are getting dangerously close to a nuclear accident. We must not allow complacency to let a roll of the dice decide what happens tomorrow," Rafael Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the council.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

The plant has come under a series of drone attacks since April 7 for which Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other. A team of international specialists at the plant confirmed that attacks took place on April 7, and said one of the attacks hit the containment dome of the Unit 6 reactor building.

Damage to the structure was superficial, but the attack “sets a very dangerous precedent of the successful targeting of the reactor containment,” Grossi said.

The other two attacks on April 7 were in close proximity to the main reactor buildings and resulted in at least one casualty, Grossi added.

In addition, experts at the site have been informed by the plant’s operators of a drone strike on the site’s oxygen and nitrogen production facility, two attacks on a training center located just outside the site's perimeter, and reports of a drone shot down above the turbine hall of Unit 6, he said without specifying when those attacks occurred.

The attacks have not led to a radiological incident, but “they significantly increase the risk at Zaporizhzhya [nuclear power plant], where nuclear safety is already compromised,” Grossi said, according to a transcript of his comments posted at the IAEA’s website.

"These reckless attacks must cease immediately," Grossi said.

The power plant has been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after their invasion started in February 2022, and the IAEA has deployed technicians at the facility. It has been shut down but still requires electricity to power its safety and cooling systems.

The plant is currently relying on just two lines of external power, and in the past year there have been at least four occasions when the plant has had only one line of external power supply, Grossi said.

Grossi is also concerned about an increase in isolated drone incursions in the vicinity of the facility and in the nearby town of Enerhodar and other areas of nuclear safety degradation.

John Bolton Says Growing U.S. Isolationism Threatens Ukraine's War Effort

Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton is currently a Republican foreign-policy consultant and conservative political commentator.
Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton is currently a Republican foreign-policy consultant and conservative political commentator.

Ukraine faces "danger" if the United States does not quickly pass much-needed military aid, former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton told Current Time, as Russia's advantages in troops and weaponry help the Kremlin edge deeper into its neighbor more than two years into the war.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, Bolton noted that Russia is currently firing five or six artillery shells for each one fired by Ukraine, a rate he said is "not sustainable over a long period of time."

"I think the best we can hope for until the [November U.S. presidential election] is a stalemate," Bolton added, highlighting the growing isolationism inside the U.S. Republican Party "due to the effect of Donald Trump," the party's presumptive nominee for the upcoming vote.

'Putin Is Waiting For Trump': Ex-U.S. National-Security Adviser Voices Fears Over Ukraine, NATO
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That isolationism, he said, was paralyzing efforts to counter threats from Iran, Russia, and China. The recent Iranian air strikes against Israel, though, might serve as "shock therapy" to many Republicans in Congress, he added.

"Ukraine needs aid; Taiwan needs aid," he said. "It is all part of the same endeavor. I'm hoping this week there might be real movement on all these fronts, but particularly on Ukraine aid."

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, an ally of Trump, appeared on April 15 to be making a push toward adopting measures this week on $95 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan through an elaborate plan that would break the package -- of which $61 billion is earmarked for Kyiv -- into separate votes.

Bolton, who spoke with Current Time from Washington, served as Trump's third national-security adviser in 2018-19 before being asked to resign after months of division over policy. He was also the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush and an outspoken advocate of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He is currently a Republican foreign-policy consultant and conservative political commentator.

If Trump, as expected, is the Republican candidate in November and if he wins the election, Bolton warned he thinks Trump "will try to withdraw from NATO."

"It would be a catastrophic mistake for the United States all around the world if he did," he said.

"The withdrawal of the United States would render NATO essentially ineffective, not just for Ukraine, but for the entire alliance."

Russia under President Vladimir Putin "remains a threat, particularly as its axis with China grows, and I think it will grow," Bolton said.

"It's a threat until somehow the Putin regime is removed from power and Russia and democracy get another chance," he told Current Time. "I don't know when that's going to occur. I'm not optimistic."

Bolton argued that no mechanisms for the peaceful transfer of power exist in Russia, where Putin has been in power for a quarter-century and elections are "clearly rigged."

"It's going to be a very dangerous period for Russia," Bolton said. "And the chances of becoming part of the West again are far more limited now...than they were before."

Russian Radar Destroyed By Ukranian Drones, Says Kyiv

The Nebo-SVU radar that has reportedly been destroyed could monitor the skies hundreds of kilometers inside Ukraine. (file photo)
The Nebo-SVU radar that has reportedly been destroyed could monitor the skies hundreds of kilometers inside Ukraine. (file photo)

Drones belonging to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) have destroyed a military radar installation in Russia's Bryansk region, according to an SBU source, in what would be another blow to Russia's ability to monitor activities deep inside Ukraine.

The Nebo-SVU radar complex monitored the skies some 700 kilometers into Ukraine, offering Russian troops better control during attacks and supporting bombers that were targeting Ukraine's territory.

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"Radars worth $100 million were struck by seven kamikaze drones," a source, speaking on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL, adding that it had confirmation that the Nebo-SVU complex was no longer functional and "probably turned into a colander."

The source did not specify when the alleged attack had taken place and the information could not be independently confirmed immediately. Russia has not mentioned any attempted Ukrainian strikes on Bryansk recently.

On April 16, Russia's Defense Ministry said that its forces had "prevented an attempted Ukrainian drone attack," shooting down three Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region.

Confronted with a worsening lack of air defenses, weapons, and ammunition as Western aid is drying out, the Ukrainian military has increasingly resorted to air and naval drone strikes deep inside Russian territory, targeting both military installations and critical oil-refining capabilities.

On April 9, the Ukrainian military intelligence said it had hit an aviation training center in Russia's southwestern Voronezh region.

On April 8, Ukrainian intelligence reportedly carried out a special operation that damaged Russia's Serpukhov missile corvette docked off the exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

Last month, it said Ukrainian sea drones struck and "sunk" the Russian patrol vessel Sergei Kotov off the coast of occupied Crimea.

In February, Ukraine's military said it had destroyed the Tsezar Kunikov, one of the largest Russian landing ships, also off the Crimean coast, and had sunk the missile-armed corvette Ivanovets in the Black Sea using naval drones.

Russia has not commented on the Ukrainian claims.

Updated

More Evacuations Ordered in Russia Amid 'Colossal' Flooding

A woman and her pet are evacuated from a flooded street ride in the Russian city of Orenburg earlier this week.
A woman and her pet are evacuated from a flooded street ride in the Russian city of Orenburg earlier this week.

Russian officials continued to order the evacuation of areas in Siberia and parts of the south as massive floods sparked by heavy rains and a rapid snowmelt show few signs of letting up.

With thousands already forced from their homes, officials in the Tyumen region of western Siberia and Kurgan in the south near the border with Kazakhstan on April 16 ordered more to leave their homes as the Ishim and Tobol rivers continue to swell.

"Pack your valuables. Leave now for a safe place, to relatives or to a temporary accommodation center," said Aleksander Moor, governor of the Tyumen region, adding that those who didn't abide by the "urgent" evacuation notice could be fined.

Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev on April 16 arrived in Petropavl, a city of some 20,000 people near the Ishim River where the local governor said more than 10,000 people had been evacuated as parts of the city remained under water.

"We are going through tough times. This is a disaster of a national scale," Toqaev told residents. "I think the next 10 days will be critical, but we are already taking measures to rebuild the country and deal with the aftermath of this disaster."

Dozens of people whose houses were flooded in Petropavl gathered on April 16 at the city's Department of Employment and Social Programs. They said that they came to submit documents for the one-time allowance promised by the government and compensation for water losses.

One person standing in line at the agency told RFE/RL that people started gathering at 8 a.m. local time.

Toqaev’s office said that in order to free up money for disaster relief he had ordered the cabinet to cut all nonessential budget spending and cancel some events, including an international conference in the capital.

In Russia's Kurgan region straddling the Tobol River near the border with Kazakhstan, the region's governor, Vadim Shumkov, warned of a "colossal" amount of water heading toward the city of Kurgan, which has already experienced power cuts and evacuations.

Shmukov said the Tobol River that runs through the region could see water levels rise to 11 meters, double the level where it breaks its banks in some places along its course.

More than 125,000 people have been evacuated from areas hit by massive floods in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan in recent weeks.

Following massive snowfalls in winter, unusually warm weather triggered the sudden melting of snow that in turn lead to the rapid swelling of rivers in what specialists say may be an effect of global climate change.

Residents Scramble To Evacuate As Floodwaters Engulf Kazakh City
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In northern Kazakhstan, where more than 111,000 people have been evacuated from flood-threatened areas since the start of this month, some residents have started to return to badly damaged houses.

The first to be affected by the massive floods was the city of Orsk, followed by Orenburg, both on the Ural. Now floods have reached the Kemerovo and Tomsk regions in western Siberia.

In the Kemerovo region, the Mrassu River overflowed its banks.

Nikolai Patrushev, director of Russia’s Security Council, said "huge material damage could have been minimized" if regional authorities had paid more attention to forecasting the water levels and responding more effectively.

With reporting by Reuters

Rights Watchdog Calls On EU States, Turkey Not To Return Tajik Dissidents

Self-exiled Tajik oppositionist Sulaimon Davlatov was sent to pretrial detention in Lithuania earlier this month. (file photo)
Self-exiled Tajik oppositionist Sulaimon Davlatov was sent to pretrial detention in Lithuania earlier this month. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on several EU countries and Turkey to refrain from sending Tajik dissidents taking shelter in their countries back to Tajikistan.

Several individuals linked to the banned Tajik opposition movement Group 24 who were residing in EU members Lithuania and Poland as well as Turkey have disappeared or been threatened with being extradited back to Tajikistan over the past several months.

On April 8, self-exiled Tajik opposition activist and ex-member of Group 24 Sulaimon Davlatov was sent to pretrial detention for two months by a court in Lithuania on a charge related to an alleged violation of the Baltic nation's national security.

The 40-year-old Davlatov, who has lived in Lithuania for nine years, is known for his online criticism of Tajik authorities. In 2015, the former member of Group 24 and the Congress of Constructive Forces opposition movements, was detained in Finland at the request of Tajik authorities, but later released.

Komron Khudoydodov, a brother of former Group 24 activist Shabnam Khudoydodova, was ordered by a Warsaw court to leave Poland, where he has been living since 2018 on a humanitarian visa, after his asylum request was rejected. His sister was charged with extremism and placed by Tajik authorities on Interpol's red-notices list in 2015.

Nasimjon Sharifov and Suhrob Zafar, two senior members of Group 24, disappeared in Turkey in February and last month respectively. Zafar has resided in Turkey since 2014, where he received multiple threats that he would be abducted and sent back to Tajikistan. Sharifov and Zafar had previously been detained in 2018 by the Turkish authorities at the request of Dushanbe but were eventually released.

In March 2015, Group 24's founder, businessman Umarali Quvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul. The group, which has been promoting democratic reforms in Tajikistan, was banned by the Tajik government and designated a terrorist organization in 2014.

“Tajikistan should unequivocally end its decade-long hunt of perceived critics abroad, especially those related to Group 24 and other banned groups,” said HRW's Syinat Sultanalieva.

“The EU and Turkey should protect opposition activists and refrain from returning them to Tajikistan, a country known for engaging in transnational repression, where they risk being tortured.”

The two EU member states and Turkey "should denounce cases of transnational repression and review any cooperation agreements with states engaged in targeting critics abroad,” the New York-based rights watchdog said.

Rain-Related Incidents Kill 39 In Pakistan, Officials Say

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one of Pakistan's provinces that has been hardest hit by the flooding.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one of Pakistan's provinces that has been hardest hit by the flooding.

Heavy rains and thunderstorms that hit several parts of Pakistan have killed 39 people and injured dozens more over the past few days, local officials said. The most affected provinces were Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwest, Punjab in the east, and Balochistan in the southwest. Balochistan's capital, Quetta, has instituted an "urban flooding emergency" due to the risk of floods in the city, Pakistan's Disaster Management Authority said. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Updated

Police In Tbilisi Begin Clearing Away Protesters Against 'Foreign Agents' Bill

Georgian pro-democracy groups activists protest against a controversial "foreign influence" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 15.
Georgian pro-democracy groups activists protest against a controversial "foreign influence" bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi on April 15.

Riot police in the capital of Georgia began clearing protesters from an entrance to the parliament building as they moved to break up a demonstration against a bill aimed at designating certain groups as foreign agents.

The police force late on April 16 mobilized water cannons to the scene and sprayed an unknown liquid at protesters after some tried to move beyond a cordon.

Officers, including some armed with shotguns, ordered protesters to disperse and deployed what appeared to be a crowd-control substance like pepper spray. Injured people were seen wiping their eyes after a colored liquid was sprayed, an RFE/RL correspondent at the scene reported.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that one employee of the ministry had been injured.

The ministry also called on demonstrators to obey the instructions from law enforcement officers and to refrain from violent actions and attacks on police officers.

"In the event that the participants of the rally continue their illegal actions, the Internal Affairs Ministry will use special measures provided for by law," the statement said.

The move to clear the demonstration came ahead of a discussion on the first reading of the bill scheduled to take place on April 17 at noon.

The controversial foreign agents bill has roiled the Caucasus nation as lawmakers from the ruling party on April 15 gave it an initial green light despite scuffles in parliament.

Thousands of people gathered outside the parliament building on April 15 urging authorities to scrap the bill that would force foreign-funded entities to register as foreign agents -- a move that many liken to similar legislation in Russia that has been used to severely restrict dissent and the activity of civil society groups.

Some of the protesters clashed with riot police deployed outside the parliament building late on April 15, the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that 14 demonstrators were arrested and one police officer was injured "as a result of the protesters' violent actions."

Earlier, scuffles broke out in parliament after opposition lawmaker Aleko Elisashvili attacked a member of the ruling party as he tried to present the bill.

Elisashvili punched Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party, sparking mayhem in the legislature that took several minutes to calm down.

Thousands Protest, And Lawmakers Brawl, As Georgian 'Foreign Agents' Bill Reappears In Parliament
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Mdinaradze appeared to be unharmed by the attack and after a short break was back heading the legal affairs committee session in parliament.

Mdinaradze said earlier this month that the Georgian Dream party planned to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets that receive foreign funding and are engaged in broadly defined political activities to report their activities to the authorities.

The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also give wide oversight powers to the authorities and introduce potential sanctions for undefined criminal offences.

The new bill is identical to the one introduced and then withdrawn last year, Georgian Dream has said, except for one change: The term "foreign agent" is replaced by the more circumlocutious "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

Georgia's opposition has called it the "Russian law," while the ruling party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation.

And its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

With reporting by Reuters

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