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Stoltenberg Says No Signs Yet On Ground To Confirm Russian Troop Pullback

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance has yet to see signs on the ground to back up Russian claims that it has pulled back some troops from border areas with Ukraine, though there are signs from Moscow that it is willing to continue dialogue to give some room for hope that a crisis in the region can be averted.

"There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue; this gives grounds for cautious optimism. But so far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground," Stoltenberg told journalists in Brussels on February 15.

Speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of defense ministers from NATO members, Stoltenberg called the fighting force amassed by Russia in and around Ukraine "unprecedented since the Cold War."

"Everything is now in place for a new attack. But Russia still has time to step back from the brink, stop preparing for war and start working for a peaceful solution," Stoltenberg said.

Russia claimed on February 15 that it was pulling back some of the estimated 130,000 troops it has moved to areas near the Ukrainian border to their bases, in what would be the first step toward de-escalation.

Russia has insisted it has no plan to invade but at the same time has said it wants guarantees on European security issues, including a commitment by NATO not to expand to countries like Ukraine, or another former Soviet republic, Georgia.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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Russia Fails In Bid To Regain 2022 Olympic Skating Gold

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva (file photo)
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva (file photo)

Russia failed to have its 2022 gold medal restored in team figure skating from the Beijing Winter Olympics, the sport’s top court said on July 25. The Russians had appealed against the decision to strip the team of the gold that it won largely thanks to the points scored by 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, who is now serving a four-year ban for doping. She had tested positive before the Olympics for trimetazidine, a drug used to treat angina but banned for athletes. When her points were deducted, Russia was relegated to bronze. The gold medal now goes to the U.S. team. They are expected to receive the medals on August 9 at a special ceremony during the Paris Olympics, which start on July 26.

Ukraine Asks Hong Kong Not To Let Russia Use It To Circumvent Sanctions 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on July 25 visited Hong Kong and called on its leader to prevent Russia from using Hong Kong to circumvent Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its full-scale war in Ukraine. Kuleba “called on the Hong Kong administration to take measures to deprive Russia and Russian companies of the opportunity to use Hong Kong to circumvent restrictive measures imposed for Russian aggression against Ukraine," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Both Hong Kong and China are seen by the U.S. government as key routes for Russia to source materials for its military, including semiconductors and drone parts.

Putin Hosts Syria's Assad, Expresses Concern Over Mideast Tensions

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center right) met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (center left) on July 25.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center right) met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (center left) on July 25.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in the Kremlin, video distributed by the Kremlin press service on July 25 showed. Putin told Assad he was concerned that tensions are rising in the Middle East, but neither leader provided further details on their talks. Russia has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, teaming up with Iran to allow Assad’s government to fight armed opposition groups and reclaim control over most of the country. Russia has maintained a military foothold in Syria and keeps troops at its bases there.

Series Of Terrorist Acts Prevented In Ukraine, EU Countries, Kyiv Says

The main office of Ukraine's SBU
The main office of Ukraine's SBU

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) said on July 25 that its officers, along with the National Police, had prevented a series of terrorist attacks in the country and IN EU member states Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. According to an SBU statement, the suspected organizer of the planned arson attacks on civic buildings and an associate were detained in the western Prykarpattya region. The two suspects allegedly coordinated, under the supervision of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the activities of 19 members of a terrorist group in several Ukrainian regions. The two men were informed that they are suspected of high treason and forgery. Russia has not commented on the report. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.


Suspect In Killing Of Former Ukrainian Lawmaker Iryna Farion Detained

Iryna Farion
Iryna Farion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on July 25 that a suspect in the shooting death of former lawmaker Iryna Farion, who was known for campaigns promoting the Ukrainian language, was detained in the eastern city of Dnipro.

Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram that Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko had informed him of the detention of an 18-year-old man suspected in the July 19 shooting.

"The operation to detain the suspect was very complicated. Hundreds of specialists from the National Police of Ukraine, the SBU, and other services worked on solving the murder, all these days," Zelenskiy wrote, adding that he asked Klymenko to provide the public with all of the details of the investigation in the high-profile case.

Klymenko said shortly afterward in a statement that the suspect rented at least three apartments in Lviv while preparing the attack on Farion.

"Now the suspect is in custody. It is important to obtain all the details. At this point, investigators are inclined to think that the shooter is just the one who carried out the attack," Klymenko said, adding that any follow-up information will be made public later.

The Schemes (Skhemy) investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service was able to identify the suspect but decided not to disclose the information.

The suspect's father told RFE/RL that his son could not have had any motive to kill Farion.

"I am currently on the battlefield and have not seen my son for some time. I talked to him on the phone on a regular basis," the man said, adding that his son is a graduate of a high school in Dnipro.

"He passed courses on using drones so that he could join Ukrainian troops. He played soccer," said the suspect’s father, whose identity Schemes also decided not to reveal.

Schemes confirmed through other sources that the suspect is a graduate of a high school in Dnipro. As a soccer player with the city's youth soccer club, he participated in a soccer tournament in autumn 2022 to support Ukraine's armed forces.

The 60-year-old Farion was shot in the head on a street in Ukraine's western city of Lviv and died in a hospital hours later.

Farion, a linguist, became a member of the nationalist Svoboda party in 2005 and was elected to parliament in 2012 but failed in subsequent attempts to win reelection.

She gained notoriety for frequent campaigns to promote the Ukrainian language and discredit public officials who spoke Russian.

Farion’s views were seen as radical by some critics, and some of her statements sparked controversy.

In 2018, when Ukraine was fighting Russia-backed separatists who had seized territory in the east, she called for a drive to "punch every Russian-speaking person in the jaw."

In 2023, she was dismissed as a professor at the Department of Ukrainian Language at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lviv Polytechnic University due to her controversial statements.

At the end of May, the Lviv Court of Appeal issued a ruling reinstating her to the position.

Iran Hangs Kurdish Prisoner Convicted Of Killing Cleric

Kamran Sheikheh was in jail for almost 15 years before he was hanged on July 25.
Kamran Sheikheh was in jail for almost 15 years before he was hanged on July 25.

An Iranian Kurdish prisoner convicted of killing a cleric has been executed despite complaints from rights groups over a lack of transparency in the judicial process.

Kamran Sheikheh had been in jail for almost 15 years before he was hanged in a prison in Urmia, West Azerbaijan Province, in the early hours of July 25.

Sheikheh was the last of seven people convicted of and executed for the September 2008 killing of Abdolrahim Tina, a congregational prayer leader in Sheikheh’s hometown of Mahabad. All seven people were executed in the last eight months, according to the Kurdish rights group Hengaw.

Amnesty International had long insisted that all seven suspects were sentenced to death in “grossly unfair trials marred by claims of torture” to exact confessions. Hengaw said the trials were “illegal and not transparent.”

Aside from murder, they were also accused of being Salafists -- an ultraradical sect under Sunni Islam.

In an open letter years ago, Sheikheh and the other six suspects denied all charges and alleged that they were subjected to various forms of torture, including mock executions, sleep deprivation, and being hung from the ceiling.

As of July 25, at least 286 people have been executed in Iranian prisons this year, according to Iran Human Rights.

According to Amnesty, Iran carried out 853 executions in 2023, with at least 481 executions for narcotics convictions.

In April, Amnesty accused the Islamic republic of “weaponizing the death penalty” to target “protesters, dissidents, and members of oppressed ethnic minorities” and called for “a robust global response” to pressure Tehran to implement a moratorium on the death penalty.

New Russian Laws Will Dramatically Restrict Migrants' Rights, Activist Says

Valentina Chupik (file photo)
Valentina Chupik (file photo)

Russian human rights defender Valentina Chupik says new legislation on migration adopted by Russia's State Duma this week will dramatically restrict the rights of labor migrants.

Thousands of men and women from Central Asia regularly come to Russia as migrant workers and provide a financial lifeline to those back home.

Speaking to Current Time on July 25, Chupik said the new bills passed by the lower house will allow Russian police to fully control the everyday routine of labor migrants and bar them from leaving their homes, even to work or shop, if they decide to do so without a court decision.

"In addition to that, the so-called migration search regime would allow any police officer to detain labor migrants for up to 48 hours to check if they are being sought under the migration search regime," Chupik said.

The legislation comes amid rising antimigrant sentiment following the arrests of several Tajik citizens suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack in late March on an entertainment center near Moscow that left more than 140 people dead.

The bills allow the police to decide if migrant workers should be deported and allows for such deportation to be conducted within 48 hours.

Currently, decisions on the deportation of labor migrants are made by courts, and migrants ordered to be deported can stay in Russia for up to 90 days before the court decision is carried out.

Chupik told Current Time that while the accelerated process meant migrants set to be deported will not spend up to three months in prison-like deportation centers, she is concerned over one clause that says migrants can be deported if accused of "taking part in, or organizing, a mass gathering."

"A mass Islamic prayer...a line to a migration registration center, a crowd of migrants at a construction site, migrants' wedding party, or burial ceremony -- all can be defined as mass gathering, and anyone who attends such events can be deported," Chupik said.

Chupik said a clause saying migrants can be deported for refusing to follow the "legitimate orders of police officers" is also "worrisome," given that "in 19 years of human right activities in Russia, I have never seen a single legitimate request by police officers to labor migrants."

"The most horrible thing they made up is the so-called deportation for minor hooliganism," Chupik stressed, adding that currently 80 percent of illegally held labor migrants are charged with hooliganism to justify their detention.

The bills still have to be approved by the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, before they are endorsed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Warships To Make Havana Port Call

A Russian Navy frigate (file photo)
A Russian Navy frigate (file photo)

Warships from Russia's Baltic Fleet will make a port visit to Havana on July 27-30, Russian news agencies reported, citing Cuba's Defense Ministry, the second such visit this year. The RIA Novosti state news agency said the training ship Smolny, the patrol frigate Neustrashimy (Fearless), and the refueling tanker Yelnya would take part in the visit and that Russian sailors would meet the head of the Cuban Navy. A Russian Navy frigate and a nuclear-powered submarine churned into Havana harbor last month, a stopover the United States and Cuba said posed no threat but which was widely seen as a Russian show of force as tensions rise over the Ukraine war.

China Breaks Ground On Massive Afghan Copper Mine After 16 Years Of Delays

Taliban security personnel surround an excavator at work during an inauguration ceremony of the Mes Aynak copper-mining project on July 24.
Taliban security personnel surround an excavator at work during an inauguration ceremony of the Mes Aynak copper-mining project on July 24.

Chinese engineers and the Taliban government officially started work on a massive project in Afghanistan to mine the world's second-largest deposit of copper.

At the July 24 event at Mes Aynak, some 40 kilometers southeast of the capital, Kabul, Taliban officials along with Chinese businessmen and diplomats carried out a ribbon-cutting ceremony as work began on the construction of a road to the mining site.

A $3 billion deal signed in 2008 gave the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) a 30-year mining concession, but combat between NATO-led troops and Taliban insurgents at the time delayed the project from moving forward for 16 years.

With violence waning since the Taliban's 2021 takeover of power amid the withdrawal of foreign troops, the cash-strapped Taliban-installed government is eager to exploit the country's vast and lucrative mineral deposits.

"The time wasted in the implementation of the project should be recuperated with speedy work," Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdul Ghani Baradar said at the ribbon-cutting event.

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Taliban officials said it would likely be at least two years before the first copper was extracted by MCC while Chinese diplomats praised the progress as a sign of warming ties between Beijing and Kabul.

"The economic and trade relations between the two countries are becoming increasingly close," said China's ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing.

Since it seized power, the Taliban has faced the task of undertaking the reconstruction and development of a country devastated by decades of war.

But officials have also found their economy suffocated by Western sanctions and dealing with international isolation that has cut them off from receiving financial support.

China has been an exception for the Taliban government, with Beijing vowing to pursue deeper cooperation shortly after the group took control of Kabul.

Beijing has been particularly focused on exploiting Afghanistan's extensive resource wealth, from oil and gas to rare-earth metals.

Mes Aynak remains one of the most attractive offerings for Chinese firms. The deposit is estimated to contain 11.5 million tons of copper ore, which is vital for electronics components and is surging in value due to its use in growing markets related to electric vehicles, renewable energy, and data centers.

According to a Brookings Institute report, Afghanistan sits on some 2.3 billion metric tons of iron ore and 1.4 million metric tons of rare-earth minerals, and the U.S. Geological Survey has calculated that the country is sitting on $1 trillion in untapped minerals, such as iron, gold, and lithium -- an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies.

Amir Mohammad Musazai, a retired professor from the Department of Geology and Mines at Kabul Polytechnic University, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that mining Mes Aynak is likely to yield amounts of copper ore worth more than the $3 billion that was signed for the mining rights, given that nearby areas also hold large copper reserves that weren’t factored into the original plans.

While the groundbreaking event at Mes Aynak is a sign that Chinese resource ventures are moving forward in the country after decades of delays due to war, security concerns are still a major hurdle holding back more expansive projects, which often rely on Chinese engineers and other staff.

The July 24 ceremony was closely guarded by dozens of armed men and Taliban officials made assurances that they would protect staff at the mining project.

Chinese workers have increasingly become a target of attacks in the region, including a suicide attack that killed five Chinese enginners in Pakistan in March and a 2021 bombing that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, at a dam project in the South Asian country.

In Afghanistan, at least five Chinese nationals were wounded when gunmen stormed a Kabul hotel popular with Beijing businessmen in 2022.

Croatia Declares Three Right-Wing Montenegrin Officials 'Undesirable'

Montenegrin politicians Milan Knezevic (left), Andrija Mandic (center) and Aleksa Becic (combo photo)
Montenegrin politicians Milan Knezevic (left), Andrija Mandic (center) and Aleksa Becic (combo photo)

Croatia has declared three pro-Serbian officials from neighboring Montenegro undesirable, effectively banning them from entering the country, after the Montenegrin parliament passed a resolution declaring the World War II-era Croatian concentration camp at Jasenovac as genocidal.

The three are parliament speaker Andrija Mandic, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksa Becic, the leader of the right-wing Democratic People's Party, and lawmaker Milan Knezevic, a member of Becic's party.

The decision was announced in a note sent by the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs to the Embassy of Montenegro in Zagreb.

The note said that the decision was made because of "systematic actions to disrupt good-neighborly relations with Croatia and continuous abuse of that country for domestic political purposes.“

"The parliament of Montenegro decided to ignore the continuous calls of the Republic of Croatia and not take steps that could negatively affect our bilateral relations and Montenegro's European path," the note said.

The resolution, put forward by Mandic and adopted by lawmakers on June 28, is considered a response by pro-Serbian ultranationalists to a UN resolution acknowledging as genocide the 1995 mass killings in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serbs.

Mandic is the head of the right-wing New Serbian Democracy, a party that was part of the now-disbanded right-wing populist Democratic Front bloc, on whose initiative the Montenegrin parliament on June 28 approved the Jasenovac resolution.

The Jasenovac concentration and extermination camp was established in 1941 by Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustase leaders. Between 83,000-100,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist Croats were killed at Jasenovac during the war.

Zagreb's move comes two days after the parties of Mandic and Knezevic became part of the government in Podgorica. Becic was already deputy prime minister in the government led by Milojko Spajic.

Neighbors Croatia and Montenegro were part of the former Yugoslavia. Croatia is now a European Union and NATO member, while Montenegro joined the alliance in 2017 and is an EU candidate.

"Croatia supports European Montenegro, supports the process of accession to the European Union," the Croatian note said, adding that it also "expects that Montenegro will behave in accordance with European values and in the European spirit, and that it will focus its efforts on further fulfilling the conditions and benchmarks in the accession process."

Mother, Aunt Of Jailed Belarusian Protester Detained On Extremism Charges

Alyaksandr Frantskevich and his mother, Tatsyana, in September 2013
Alyaksandr Frantskevich and his mother, Tatsyana, in September 2013

Belarusian activist Yauhenia Douhaya said on July 24 that the mother and an aunt of imprisoned anarchist Alyaksandr Frantskevich -- Tatsyana Frantskevich and Natallya Labatsevich -- were arrested on a charge of taking part in an extremist group's activities. According to Douhaya, the sisters were arrested on July 19 when they came to visit Alyaksandr Frantskevich in prison. He was sentenced to 16 years and 9 months in prison in September 2022 over his participation in mass rallies protesting the official results of an August 2020 presidential election that declared authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner. The opposition and many Western governments have refused to accept the results, saying the balloting was rigged. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Russian Activist Could Face 4 Years In Prison For Sending $22 To Navalny Foundation

Gleb Kalinychev (file photo)
Gleb Kalinychev (file photo)

Prosecutors asked a court in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod on July 24 to sentence activist Gleb Kalinychev to four years in prison for sending 1,899 rubles ($21.9) to late opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in 2021-22. Kalinychev was arrested in September on a charge of financing extremist activities. He pleaded not guilty. Russia declared all of Navalny's organizations extremist and banned them in 2021, after which many Navalny supporters fled Russia. Some former Navalny associates and supporters have since been handed lengthy prison terms on extremism charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Death Toll In Kazakh Industrial Accident Rises To 4

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Officials in Kazakhstan's central Qaraghandy region said on July 25 that two workers injured in an accident at a ferroalloy plant have died, raising the death toll from last weekend's accident to four. Two other workers died in the hospital earlier this week. Four other workers injured in the accident remain hospitalized, two of whom were just moved out of intensive care. On July 20, a fireball blasted out of a furnace at the plant belonging to YDD Corporation, injuring the workers, who sustained severe burns. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Wife Of Jailed Journalist Losik Released In Amnesty, Rights Group Says

Darya and Ihar Losik (file photo)
Darya and Ihar Losik (file photo)

The Homelskaya Vyasna human rights group in Belarus said on July 24 that Darya Losik, the wife of imprisoned RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik, was released earlier this month as part of a mass amnesty.

According to the group, Darya Losik was one of five women imprisoned on politically motivated charges who were released from the prison in the southeastern city of Homel in early July.

Darya Losik was handed a two-year sentence in January 2023 on a charge of facilitating extremist activity that stemmed from her interview with the Poland-based Belsat news outlet, which has been declared an extremist group by Minsk.

Ihar Losik is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for charges that he, RFE/RL, and foreign governments have called politically motivated.

The 32-year-old was arrested in June 2020 and sentenced in December 2021 for "organizing mass riots, taking part in mass disorder, inciting social hatred," and several other charges that remain unclear.

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

In October 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Belarus violated international human rights law by imprisoning Losik, concluding that his arrest and detention were "based solely on his journalistic activity and his exercise of the freedoms of expression and of association."

The U.S.-based rights group Freedom Now said at the time that the conclusion was made in response to a legal petition it filed along with the international law firm Dechert LLP.

The U.S. State Department, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and several U.S. and EU politicians have called several times for Losik's immediate release.

Losik's parents said in February that the last letter they received from their son, who was placed in cell-type premises where letters, parcels from relatives, and visits are banned, was on February 20, 2023.

Iranian Historian Who Escaped Persecution At Risk Of Being Sent Back To Iran

Ali Asghar Haghdar (file photo)
Ali Asghar Haghdar (file photo)

A historian who fled Iran in the aftermath of the 2009 protests is at risk of being sent back.

Ali Asghar Haqdar, a published author who has been living in Turkey for 13 years, was detained on June 13 in Istanbul and sent to a refugee camp.

On July 24, he informed RFE/RL's Radio Farda that a court had denied his request for temporary release.

His lawyer, Salih Efe, told Radio Farda that he had appealed the verdict but warned that if the appeal is rejected, "it will seriously increase Haqdar's chances of being deported to Iran."

Haqdar, who is being held in a camp in Istanbul's Arnavutkoy municipality, is in a poor mental state, according to people familiar with his condition.

He has reportedly told those close to him that people in the camp are rarely allowed to get fresh air and are mostly kept inside repurposed shipping containers.

Last month, Haqdar told Radio Farda that he was detained in Istanbul during a mass arrest of foreign nationals.

He said police had told him that his passport was close to expiry and that they needed to check whether he was registered in the system. He has been in the camp since his detention on June 13.

Haqdar fled Iran after a leaked document allegedly prepared by the Intelligence Ministry listed his name among several authors and translators accused of fomenting sedition in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential election.

During his time in Turkey, he has been collaborating with various universities and says he had permission to live in Istanbul to use the libraries for his research.

Haqdar is a recipient of the 2013 Hellman/Hemmet award, which is given by Human Rights Watch to authors facing political persecution.


U.S., Canadian Warplanes Intercept Russian, Chinese Military Aircraft Near Alaska

A Russian TU-95 bomber (file photo)
A Russian TU-95 bomber (file photo)

The United States and Canada scrambled fighter jets after two Russian and two Chinese military planes were tracked in the international airspace close to Alaska, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.

"NORAD detected, tracked, and intercepted two Russian Tu-95 and two PRC H-6 military aircraft operating in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on July 24, 2024. NORAD fighter jets from the United States and Canada conducted the intercept," the statement said.

The "identification zone" is a stretch of international airspace that acts as a buffer zone where the U.S. and Canadian national airspace ends. All aircraft entering the ADIZ require identification for national security reasons, NORAD clarified.

The presence of the Russian and Chinese planes was not seen as a threat, since they remained in international airspace and did not violate U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace, NORAD said, adding that it will "continue to monitor competitor activity near North America and meet presence with presence."

Russia has long had a military presence in the North Pacific and intercepts of Russian planes are relatively common in the area. An intercept refers to visual or electronic contact by NORAD aircraft of foreign planes.

Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Russian and Chinese warplanes conducted a "joint patrol over the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Sea, and the northern part of the Pacific Ocean" and "worked out issues of interaction at all stages of air patrolling."

They "acted strictly in accordance with the provisions of international law" and there were "no violations of the airspace of foreign states," the ministry said.

China's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said the joint flight was "not aimed at a third party."

Ministry spokesman Zhang Xiaogang said the action "has nothing to do with the current international and regional situation," while it "tests and enhances the level of cooperation between the two air forces."

Russia and China have deepened their political, military, and economic cooperation since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Beijing's military has in recent years expanded its reach farther and farther away from continental China, with Chinese naval ships being detected in international waters near Alaska.

The U.S. Coast Guard earlier this month spotted four Chinese vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, a 370-kilometer stretch of sea from the U.S. coast.

NORAD is a Colorado-based joint organization of the United States and Canada that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and protection for Canada and the continental United States.

"NORAD remains ready to employ a number of response options in defense of North America," the statement said.

Russia Attacks Ukrainian Danube Port For Second Day As NATO Scrambles Warplanes Over Romania

Members of emergency services work in the aftermath of a Russian drone strike in Izmayil, Ukraine on July 24.
Members of emergency services work in the aftermath of a Russian drone strike in Izmayil, Ukraine on July 24.

Russia on July 25 attacked the Ukrainian Danube port of Izmayil for the second day in a row, damaging infrastructure critical for Kyiv's grain exports, while in neighboring Romania, NATO scrambled F-18 warplanes as drone debris was found near the border with Ukraine.

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Ukraine's military said its air defenses shot down 25 out of the 38 drones launched by Russia at its territory early in the day, adding that three Russian drones "were lost on location after crossing the Romanian border."

The drones were destroyed over the Odesa, Kherson, Mykolayiv, Kyiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, and Cherkasy regions, the air force said.

Local officials in Izmayil, which is in the Odesa region, said that port facilities were damaged for the second day in a row and two civilians were wounded.

Oleh Kiper, the governor of the Odesa region, said the administrative headquarters in Izmayil was "partially destroyed and then caught fire."

Russia, which last year exited a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey allowing Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea, has turned to targeting Izmayil and another Ukrainian Danube port, Reni, used by Kyiv to export its grain through Romania's Black Sea port of Constanta.

Romania's Defense Ministry confirmed that drone debris was found near the village of Plauru, across the Danube from Izmayil. "The remains of a Geran1/2- type drone of Russian origin were identified," it said in a statement, adding that the search continued.

The ministry said that two F-18 fighter jets belonging to NATO ally Finland took off from Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea coast to monitor the situation, the second day alliance warplanes took off in the region after Romanian F-16s had been scrambled the previous day.

A spokesperson said NATO has no indication of any intentional attack on NATO territory but said incidents of Russian drones entering Romanian airspace are “irresponsible and potentially dangerous.”

The spokesperson said NATO has further intensified monitoring and surveillance measures, including through air patrols, in recent days.

In images and video footage broadcast by Romanian television, burnt out trees and a crater could be seen at the site where the drone debris was found.

Earlier, Romania issued for a second day mobile-phone messages for Tulcea County, which borders southern Ukraine, alerting the public of the risk of falling drone debris. It was the second time Romania issued such an alert in as many days.

Romanian Foreign Minister Luminita Odobescu denounced the "heinous" Russian attacks on Ukraine and said Bucharest was in constant contact with NATO.

"More heinous attacks have been perpetrated by Russia against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Debris has been found on Romanian territory. We have informed and are coordinating with our Allies on this matter. Romania strongly condemns these irresponsible actions," Odobescu wrote on X.

With reporting by,, and Reuters

Military Helicopter Crew Killed In Crash In Western Russia

A Russian Mi-28 helicopter (file photo)
A Russian Mi-28 helicopter (file photo)

A Mi-28 helicopter belonging to the Russian military crashed in the western Kaluga region and the crew was killed, the Defense Ministry reported, saying that a technical malfunction was identified as the preliminary cause of the crash. It did not say how many people were on board, but Mi-28 helicopters usually have a two-people crew. The helicopter had been on a scheduled flight, the ministry said. Regional Governor Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram that rescuers were working at the crash site. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Biden Vows To Defend Ukraine, Democracy In Final Months Of Presidency

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 24 about his decision to drop his reelection bid.
President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on July 24 about his decision to drop his reelection bid.

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking publicly for the first time about his decision to drop his bid for reelection, vowed to defend democracy at home and in allies such as Ukraine in the final months of his presidency.

In an address to the nation on July 24, Biden explained his decision to drop out of the November 5 presidential election, saying it was time to put personal ambition to the side and allow a new generation to take over.

Instead of running against Republican rival Donald Trump -- Biden has endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as the Democratic Party's candidate -- the 81-year-old president said he would "keep working to ensure America remains strong and secure and the leader of the free world."

"We’ll keep rallying a coalition of proud nations to stop [Russian President Vladimir] Putin from taking over Ukraine and doing more damage. We’ll keep NATO stronger, and I’ll make it more powerful and more united than at any time in all of our history," he said in the 10-minute address broadcast live to the nation.

Throughout his nearly decade-long political career, Trump has praised authoritarian leaders like Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

At times Trump has publicly criticized U.S. aid to Ukraine's defenses as it tries to repel invading Russian troops, while his candidate for vice president, Senator J.D. Vance, helped lead Republican efforts to try and block billions in U.S. military and financial assistance to Kyiv.

During his term in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump tilted the Supreme Court to the right of the political spectrum, sought to overturn the 2020 election results, and -- his critics say -- undermined NATO unity.

Biden and Harris, who attended an international Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland last month, have been staunch supporters of Ukraine and of NATO's role in helping the country.

Biden, whose term officially ends on January 20, 2025, said that with the United States at an inflection point, Harris, 59, is best-placed to run in an election where "the soul of America was at stake."

Biden had sewn up the Democratic Party's nomination for the election, but dropped out of the race and endorsed Harris amid an erosion of support over concerns about his fitness to run because of his age.

He had been under pressure for weeks since a horrendous performance at a debate with Trump, where the president appeared frail and confused at times, raising questions about his physical and mental state.

Biden said he became the first incumbent U.S. president to give up his party's nomination in more than five decades because he needed to unite Democrats, even though he believed his record in the Oval Office merited a second four-year term.

"So I've decided the best way forward is to pass the torch to a new generation. That's the best way to unite our nation," he said.

"I know there is a time and a place for long years of experience in public life, but there’s also a time and a place for new voices, fresh voices, yes, younger voices, and that time and place is now."

Trump, who now becomes the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history, immediately slammed Biden, saying in a post on his Truth Social network the address was "barely understandable and so bad."

Harris, a former prosecutor and California senator, would become the first black woman to run at the top of the election ticket for a major party in the country's history if she is confirmed as the Democratic nominee at the party's convention in Chicago that begins on August 19.

"The great thing about America is here kings and dictators do not rule, the people do. History is in your hands. The power is in your hands. The idea of America lies in your hands," Biden said at the end of his address.

With reporting by AP

Man Charged With Stabbing Salman Rushdie In 2022 Faces New Federal Charges

Salman Rushdie (file photo)
Salman Rushdie (file photo)

A man who severely injured author Salman Rushdie in a knife attack in 2022 was motivated by a Hizballah leader's endorsement of a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death, prosecutors said on July 24. A new indictment of Hadi Matar, a U.S. citizen from New Jersey, said he was attempting to carry out a fatwa. The prosecutor said in a news release that Matar believed the call for the Iranian-born author's death, first issued in 1989, was backed by the Lebanon-based militant group Hizballah and endorsed in a 2006 speech by the group’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that in attempting to murder Rushdie, Matar "committed an act of terrorism in the name of Hizballah, a designated terrorist organization aligned with the Iranian regime.” Matar, who faces separate state charges of attempted murder and assault, pleaded not guilty to the new federal charges. To read the U.S. Justice Department news release, click here.

Constitutional Court In Bosnia Temporarily Suspends Republika Srpska's Election Law

Citizens who oppose changes to the election law of Bosnia-Herzegovina protest in Sarajevo. (file photo)
Citizens who oppose changes to the election law of Bosnia-Herzegovina protest in Sarajevo. (file photo)

The Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina on July 24 temporarily suspended an election law passed by the National Assembly of Republika Srpska in April, sparking negative reaction by the international community and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Bosnia.

The court declared the law “temporarily invalid,” saying that the decision will stay in place until the Constitutional Court makes a final decision.

The suspension came in a case to assess the compliance of Republika Srpska’s election law with the constitution of Bosnia. Denis Zvizdic, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives of the Bosnian parliament, requested the court make the assessment.

The Constitutional Court said the case brings up "a very serious and complex issues regarding the constitutionality of the contested election law of [Republika Srpska].”

It said the entity’s new election law regulates issues that are already regulated by the election law of Bosnia and transfers the competences of the Bosnian Central Election Commission to the lower-level entity commission, invalidating at the same time some provisions of the state level election law.

OSCE Chairman Ian Borg and Secretary-General Helga Marie Schmid said in their criticism of the election law that the establishment of parallel structures that undermine the overall security and stability of the country are against the constitutional order of Bosnia.

The court's decision on July 24 said it must resolve the question of whether the National Assembly of Republika Srpska has the authority to differently regulate areas that are already regulated at the state level in Bosnia.

The court therefore considers that there are valid concerns that the disputed law could violate the constitutional order and political stability of Bosnia, the court said.

This is sufficient to determine the existence of the possibility of "irreversible adverse consequences" if the Constitutional Court of Bosnia does not temporarily suspend the law, the court stated, adding that the temporary measure does not prejudge the final decision on the constitutionality of this law.

The court considers that election regulations represent one of the key areas for ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections that reflect the will of the citizens, the court said. Bosnia is preparing for local elections on October 6.

The court said that the implementation of the election law ahead of this year’s elections “would seriously undermine the role of the Central Election Commission of Bosnia-Herzegovina." It added that implementing the law ahead of upcoming local elections "could cause irreparable damage to the democratic election process, legal stability, and threatened the legitimacy of the electoral process."

3 Dead, 4 Wounded In Shooting Between Ukrainian Troops In Kharkiv Region

Ukrainian national flags flutter over the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a military cemetery in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. (file photo)
Ukrainian national flags flutter over the graves of fallen Ukrainian soldiers in a military cemetery in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. (file photo)

Three members of a Ukrainian military unit have been killed and four wounded in the Kharkiv region in a shooting between soldiers. The Khortytsia operational-strategic group reported on Telegram on July 24 that the shooting took place "on the basis of personal relationships." The four wounded soldiers were transported to a military clinic, where they are receiving emergency medical care, the Khortytsia group said, adding that their condition is serious. The Military Law and Order Service of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies were at the scene to begin an investigation. To read the original story on RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russia Is Waging A 'Christian Jihad' In Occupied Ukraine, Military Chaplain Says 

Ukrainian Military Chaplain Mark Serhiyev on July 24, 2024, after testifying before the U.S. Helsinki Commission
Ukrainian Military Chaplain Mark Serhiyev on July 24, 2024, after testifying before the U.S. Helsinki Commission

WASHINGTON -- Churches in occupied Ukraine are “loyal to Moscow rather than God,” Ukrainian military chaplain Mark Serhiyev said at a July 24 congressional hearing, adding that Russia is waging a “Christian jihad” in the region.

Serhiyev, an evangelical pastor in Melitopol, a city in southern Ukraine, was invited to speak to the Helsinki Commission about life as a non-Orthodox Christian in occupied Ukraine. Serhiyev said he came to the United States to meet with over 25 pastors and American Christians to “spread the stories” of Ukrainian believers.

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.

Members of Congress in recent months have met with representatives from various Ukrainian Protestant churches to better understand the impact of the war on religious freedom. Evangelical leaders, in turn, have said that minority faith groups are under threat in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine as they appeal to American evangelicals, a key constituency in the presidential election this November.

Serhiyev told the commission that he watched “from the windows of my church” as Russian tanks “rolled into my city” in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

There are no evangelical churches left in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine, Serhiyev told Representative Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which is a committee that focuses on security, cooperation, and human rights in Europe.

Serhiyev noted that before the war there were 2,000 Baptist churches and 2,500 Pentecostal churches in Ukraine. He didn’t specify how many remain but said many Christians are now worshiping underground.

Serhiyev said his father, also an evangelical pastor, was given 72 hours early in the invasion to record a video in front of his Melitopol church stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin controlled the area. His father refused to make the video, even under threat of having his fingers cut off, and the church’s 40-foot cross was “cut up” and “replaced with the Russian flag.”

“Russians are trying to make a weapon of religion,” Serhiyev said, adding that his church is now being used to host pro-Russia concerts funded by the Kremlin.

Moscow values religion for controlling the public, Serhiyev said, noting that Russia in June exchanged a single Orthodox priest for Ukrainian soldiers in a prisoner swap.

While Serhiyev told the commission that Ukraine has “100 percent religious freedom,” in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine members of all non-Orthodox denominations and religions are targeted.

Under Russian occupation, Serhiyev said 80 percent of congregants from his 1,500-person church fled. Those who remain meet and pray in small groups of less than five people in what Serhiyev described as a “new level of faith.” One small group leader, Lena, is being held prisoner by Russia for leading a small evangelical group, Serhiyev recounted.

Penn State professor Catherine Wanner told the commission there is “no place for Protestants in the Russian world.” According to Wanner, who previously worked for the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, evangelicals in Russia are considered “apostates,” “traitors,” and “spies.”

For Serhiyev, Russia’s behavior parallels his great-grandfather’s experience as a jailed pastor in the Soviet Union. He was later killed.

“Nothing has changed,” Serhiyev told RFE/RL. “The questions by the communist KGB were the same when Russians came into my house.”

Serhiyev said that when the Russian forces found out he was a pastor, he was forced to go outside in the middle of the night. Russian soldiers, he said, pointed an assault rifle in his face while his 9-year-old son, Christopher, watched.

Serhiyev also condemned Patriarch Kirill, who is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and known for his ties to Putin.

The hearing addressed Kirill, who announced a “Christian jihad,” and proclaimed that every Russian soldier who fights against Ukraine would “go directly to heaven because he’s fighting for the country” if he died in battle, Serhiyev told RFE/RL.

From the Russian perspective, Serhiyev said Kirill wants a “fight for the Slavic Orthodox world,” which “is crazy because they are killing kids and destroying our city.”

Defamation Case Filed By Tate Brothers Can Proceed, Florida Judge Rules

Andrew Tate (file photo)
Andrew Tate (file photo)

A judge in the U.S. state of Florida ruled on July 24 that a defamation lawsuit filed by Internet influencer Andrew Tate against a Florida woman who accused him of imprisoning her in Romania can go to trial. The judge ruled that the former professional kickboxer, 37, and his brother, Tristan, 36, can present their allegations to a jury that the woman in 2022 engaged in a plot to extort money from them. The British-American brothers say the woman falsely accused them of human trafficking and rape, costing them their freedom and millions of dollars in income from their social media ventures. The brothers are currently awaiting trial in Romania on charges of human trafficking, rape, and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women.

Orban Allies Show Trump Solidarity With Ear 'Bandages' At Closely Watched Gathering

Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.
Hungarian Fidesz lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth with a folded paper "bandage" over his ear at the Tusvanyos Festival in eastern Transylvania on July 24.

The chairman of the Hungarian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and the organizer of an annual political boot camp for Hungary's ruling Fidesz party in neighboring Romania made a show of solidarity with former U.S. President Donald Trump at the opening of the five-day event on July 24.

Lawmaker Zsolt Nemeth and David Campanale, the co-founder of the 33rd annual Tusvanyos Festival, each wore a folded paper rectangle next to their right ear in homage to the bandage that Trump wore after an assassination attempt at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on July 13 injured the Republican nominee for U.S. president.

The red-white-and-green papers had "Go, Hungarians" written on them.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Transylvanian event, Nemeth cited the attempt on Trump's life alongside the shooting at close range of left-wing nationalist Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in mid-May, nearly killing him.

"The escalation of violence and aggressiveness demands that [we] demonstrate and protest against it," Nemeth said. "This is unacceptable. It goes against everything for which Tusvanyos was launched 33 years ago."

David Campanale, a former journalist and co-founder of the event, which is officially called the Balvanyos Free Summer University and Student Camp, also wore the paper bandage.

The Tusvanyos Festival is an annual event that Orban frequently uses to lay out broad strategic goals and policies and appeal to ethnic Hungarians abroad, including to announce his support for Trump's successful presidential bid in 2016.

Orban will address this year's festival on July 27.

An estimated 1 million ethnic Hungarians live in northern Romania, hundreds of thousands of them with dual citizenship since Orban mounted a major effort to extend voting rights and other benefits of Hungarian nationality to the diaspora.

Hungarian nationalism is a sensitive topic in northern Romania and in nearby Ukraine, where Orban has pressed for greater autonomy for ethnic Hungarians and where Hungarian-language media are readily available.

Orban and his national populist Fidesz party have dominated Hungarian politics since 2010. Orban and Trump have become staunch transatlantic allies of the political right on issues from immigration and Russia's invasion of Ukraine to multilateralism since the run-up to Trump's first presidential bid eight years ago.

Orban was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump's successful campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly expressed his support ahead of the 2024 race that looks likely to pit him against Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.

Orban's comments have sparked a feud with the U.S. ambassador to Budapest under President Joe Biden's administration, David Pressman.

Orban and his foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, have resisted but so far avoided vetoing EU sanctions on Russia since its full-scale Ukraine invasion began more than two years ago, blaming those economic punishments for a flagging national economy and depicting many Western leaders as warmongers.

They have insisted on keeping NATO member Hungary out of military supply efforts for Kyiv, arguing that defeating Russia is out of the question and that arming Ukrainians extends the war.

Critics say Budapest has cynically adopted Kremlin talking points on the war, the continent's first all-out invasion since World War II.

Earlier this month, Hungary's Foreign Ministry quoted Orban as urging the European Union "not to copy the foreign policy of U.S. Democrats."

Before NATO's 75th anniversary summit earlier this month in Washington, Orban traveled to Kyiv, Moscow, and Beijing as part of a "peace mission" that the EU denounced, and he accused the United States of conducting a "war policy."

Orban also predicted a Trump victory in November, adding, “I’m sure that a change would be good for the world."

Orban met with Trump at the latter's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after the summit, where the Hungarian leader said they "discussed ways to make peace," adding of the Republican U.S. presidential nominee, "The good news of the day: He’s going to solve it!"

Trump and his party have criticized the amounts of aid being given to Ukraine, and Trump has vowed, without elaborating, to end the war quickly.

Trump wore a rectangular bandage over his right ear throughout last week's Republican National Convention where he officially received the party's nomination for president, sparking supporters to don similar patches in a show of solidarity against the attempt on Trump's life by a 20-year-old gunman.

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