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New Zealand Broadcaster Probes Edits That Presented 'False,' 'Russian View' Of Ukraine War

Fourteen of the 15 stories in question related directly to the ongoing war in Ukraine. (file photo)
Fourteen of the 15 stories in question related directly to the ongoing war in Ukraine. (file photo)

New Zealand's only noncommercial, public broadcaster has announced an outside investigation and review of its editing of online stories after what it called "15 instances of inappropriate editing" that pushed a "false account" of the ongoing war in Ukraine. A Radio New Zealand media reporter added that stories "were edited to align with the Russian view of events." The broadcaster said it was probing the actions of a single employee who is currently on leave. Fourteen of the 15 stories related directly to the ongoing war in Ukraine, while the other concerned a Serbian accusation against Kyiv.

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Russia Seeking To Exploit Ethnic Tensions In Western Balkans, U.S. Warns

Bosnian Serb protesters carry portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as they rally in support of leader Milorad Dodik in East Sarajevo in September 2023.
Bosnian Serb protesters carry portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as they rally in support of leader Milorad Dodik in East Sarajevo in September 2023.

Moscow is seeking to exploit ethnic tensions in the Western Balkans to provoke "instability and hinder the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," the U.S. State Department has said.

The warning came after retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, recently cautioned that Russia, which maintains close ties with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, is using Belgrade as a proxy to sow discord in the region.

Serbia, which has been a candidate for membership in the European Union since 2012, has so far refused to impose sanctions on Moscow over its war against Ukraine, even though it voted in favor of several UN resolutions condemning Russia's aggression.

Tensions have been on the rise in recent months in northern Kosovo, where there's a sizeable ethnic Serb minority, and in Republika Srpska, the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik, who has been put under sanctions by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's civil war, has also been on friendly terms, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Dodik's separatist statements have been one of the main stumbling blocks in Bosnia's progress toward EU membership, after it became a candidate in 2022.

"It is clear that Russia does not support the same European future for the countries in the Western Balkans that they themselves have chosen and that the people of the region deserve. Russia seeks to exploit interethnic tensions, create instability, and obstruct the region’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," a State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL.

In Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, tensions have remained high since an incident in September 2023 that left an ethnic Albanian police officer dead after an encounter with masked commandos allegedly led by a Kosovar Serb politician.

A long-delayed promise by Kosovo's government of an association of Kosovar Serb municipalities for dialogue with Pristina and a recent ban on the use of the Serbian dinar, which has remained in widespread use in northern Kosovo, have also added to the tensions with Belgrade, which has not recognized its former province's 2008 declaration of independence.

"We remain concerned about the risk that local tensions will turn into serious political conflagrations that will hold back the states of the region, for instance in northern Kosovo and given threats of secession in Bosnia-Herzegovina," the spokesperson told RFE/RL.

"We are working closely with all parties to minimize those risks."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Asia James O'Brien has recently described the tensions on northern Kosovo and Republika Srpska's threats to secede as the main security risks in the Western Balkans.

"This is why the United States is working with the Western Balkan countries to strengthen regional cooperation and advance reforms that will lessen opportunity for malign Russian influence and bring lasting peace, stability, and prosperity to the region," the spokesperson said.

"Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine underscores the urgency and importance of these priorities."

Updated

Pakistani Ex-PM Imran Khan, Wife Acquitted In Unlawful Marriage Case

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (center) with his wife, Bushra Bibi (left), arrive to appear at a high court in Lahore in May 2023.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (center) with his wife, Bushra Bibi (left), arrive to appear at a high court in Lahore in May 2023.

A court in Islamabad on July 13 acquitted former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife on July 13 on charges of unlawful marriage. Khan, 71, and his wife, Bushra Khan, also known as Bushra Bibi, were sentenced to 7 years in prison in February when a court found them guilty of breaking Islamic law by failing to observe the required interval between Bibi's divorce from a previous marriage and her marriage to Khan. The case was filed at the request of her ex-husband, Khawar Manika. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Pakistan, IMF Reach Deal For $7 Billion Loan

IMF delegation meets with Pakistan officials (file photo).
IMF delegation meets with Pakistan officials (file photo).

Pakistan has reached a deal for a fresh $7 billion loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global lender has announced.

In exchange for the 37-month loan, which Islamabad badly needs to prop up its sputtering economy, the Pakistani government pledged to implement more unpopular reforms.

The loan, the 24th from the IMF to Pakistan in more than six decades, is "subject to approval by the IMF's executive board," the IMF said in a statement.

The deal's main aim is to back the Pakistani government's steps to cement macroeconomic stability while putting in place the necessary conditions for resilient growth.

"This includes steps to strengthen fiscal and monetary policy and reforms to broaden the tax base, improve state-owned enterprises' management, strengthen competition, secure a level playing field for investment, enhance human capital, and scale up social protection through increased generosity," the statement said.

The deal came after months of negotiations, and on condition that Pakistan improve its tax collection system. Only 5.2 million people filed income-tax returns in 2022 in a country of some 236 million people.

While around 40 percent of the population already lives below the poverty line, the World Bank said in April it feared that 10 million additional Pakistanis would fall below this threshold.

Last year, Islamabad was close to default as its economy was hit hard by political chaos, the aftermath of huge monsoon floods in 2022, and decades of mismanagement.

Pakistan's financial sector remains very fragile amid high inflation and a huge public debt.

Under the program, "we need to ensure structural reforms and bring self-sustainability in areas of public finance, energy, and state-owned institutions," Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb was quoted by Geo News as saying on July 13.


With reporting by AFP

Russia Adds Blogger, Telegram Channel To 'Foreign Agents' List

Russian blogger Daria Bogdanova (file photo)
Russian blogger Daria Bogdanova (file photo)

Russia's Justice Ministry has added blogger Daria Bogdanova and the VChK-OGPU (Russian Crime project) Telegram channel to its "foreign agents" register. Bogdanova was added to the list for "creating and distributing foreign agent" materials and "disseminating false information about decisions made by Russian authorities," speaking out against Russia's war in Ukraine, and taking part in fundraising for Ukraine's military, the ministry said. VChK-OGPU was added to the list for "dissemination of false information aimed at creating a negative image of the Russian army." Russia has used its "foreign agent" law since 2012 to label and punish critics of government policies. To read the original story by Current Time. click here.



Oil Depot On Fire In Russia's Rostov Region, Governor Says

Ukraine has targetted Russia's oil infrastructure with drone attacks in recent months. (file photo)
Ukraine has targetted Russia's oil infrastructure with drone attacks in recent months. (file photo)

An oil depot was on fire in Russia's southwestern Rostov region following a Ukrainian drone attack early on July 13, the region's governor, Vasily Golubev, said on Telegram. "An oil depot in the Tsimlyansky district caught fire at about 4 a.m. following a drone attack," Golubev wrote, adding that 14 firefighting units were working at the site to put the fire out. Golubev said that according to preliminary information, there were no casualties following the attack. Telegram channel Don Mash published a video purporting to show the fire. Ukraine has not commented on the Russian claim. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Concern Rises Over Racial Extremism After Arrest Of Alleged White Supremacist Headed To Ukraine

Representatives of the Free Russia Legion, the Siberian Battalion, and the Russian Volunteer Corps attend a press conference of pro-Ukrainian Russian paramilitary groups in Kyiv in March.
Representatives of the Free Russia Legion, the Siberian Battalion, and the Russian Volunteer Corps attend a press conference of pro-Ukrainian Russian paramilitary groups in Kyiv in March.

The U.S. Justice Department on July 12 said ethnically motivated attacks were becoming a serious global threat and suggested the global community take them more seriously, a day after announcing the arrest of an 18-year-old New Jersey man who is accused of plotting to attack a U.S. electrical substation to advance his white-supremacist views.

The new threats are emerging through technological changes and Russian-linked actors developing and spreading false narratives on racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE) in Ukraine, the Justice Department said in a news release.

The department said the international community had developed strong cooperation over the last 20 years to counter terrorist groups and networks, such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, but there is not yet the same type of routine information sharing for REMVE.

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.

To address the gap, the Justice Department said it co-hosted with the State Department the third annual meeting of the Counterterrorism Law Enforcement Forum in The Hague on July 10-11.

The forum's participants included law enforcement, prosecutors, and other criminal justice practitioners from around the world to discuss how to effectively address and counter REMVE threats.

The meeting built on the conversations that participants had in the first two forums, "reflecting the type of cooperation that will be needed in the coming years as REMVE threats continue to build their transnational ties," the Justice Department said.

The arrest of the 18-year-old was announced on July 11 after he made his initial appearance in court for allegedly soliciting another individual to destroy an electrical substation in the United States.

The defendant, Andrew Takhistov of Brunswick, New Jersey, was arrested on July 10 at the international airport in Newark, New Jersey, where he was about to board a transatlantic flight.

Authorities said they believe Takhistov was on his way to Ukraine to join the Russian Volunteer Corps.

Takhistov two months ago informed an undercover employee that he was planning to travel to Ukraine in July to join the Russian Volunteer Corps, explaining that he chose the organization because it was openly national-socialist and specialized in assassinations, attacks on power grids, and other infrastructure sabotage.

"We will not tolerate these kinds of alleged terroristic threats, and working with our partners, we will always be ready to root out and bring to justice anyone who attempts to carry out these acts," Philip Sellinger, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, said in a news release.

A criminal complaint against Takhistov alleges that he encouraged violence against black and Jewish communities, discussed causing death and destruction on a large scale, praised mass shooters, and shared online a quote attributed to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler about terrorism as "the best political weapon."

According to the complaint, Takhistov repeatedly referred to his REMVE ideology and his desire to advance that ideology through violent means. He also formed his own REMVE group called White Legion in North Carolina.

Takhistov claimed that he trained with two individuals he recruited from militant neo-Nazi chatrooms, obtained neo-Nazi literature from the overtly neo-Nazi discussion group European American Unity, and in March took part in a white-nationalist protest at a park in New Brunswick.

According to Sellinger, Takhistov discussed a "three-step plan for white domination" ending the war in Ukraine, invading Russia and then starting political activism in Europe and the United States in support of national-socialist political parties.

Takhistov is charged with one count of soliciting another individual to engage in criminal conduct that involved destroying an electrical facility in the United States. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

With reporting by AP

Russian, U.S. Defense Chiefs Discussed Lowering Escalation In Call, Moscow Says

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov (combo photo)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left) and Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov (combo photo)

Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed lowering the risk of "possible escalation" in a telephone call, the Russian Defense Ministry said on July 12. The call, which was initiated by Moscow, came after Washington announced plans to deploy long-range missiles in Germany, a decision the Kremlin warned could spell a return to Cold War-style confrontation. "The issue of preventing security threats and reducing the risk of possible escalation was discussed," Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh confirmed that the call took place and was initiated by Moscow but provided no further information. The White House announced on July 10 that it would station long-range weapons in Germany as a deterrent.

Ukraine's Ambassador To International Organizations Resigns Amid Scandal

Emine Dzheppar (file photo)
Emine Dzheppar (file photo)

Former First Deputy Ukrainian Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppar (aka Dzhaparova) said on Facebook on July 11 that she filed papers asking Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to relieve her from the post of full-time ambassador to international organizations in Vienna. In April, Dzheppar was dismissed as first deputy foreign minister but kept her position in Vienna. She has been under media focus for months after she married a controversial tycoon, Hennadiy Boholyubov, who, according to the State Bureau of Investigations, used forged documents to flee Ukraine last month to avoid arrest on corruption charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Finland Passes Law To Block Migrants Crossing From Russia

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo called the new law "a strong message to Russia, a strong message to our allies, that Finland takes care of its own security, we take care of the security of the EU border." (file photo)
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo called the new law "a strong message to Russia, a strong message to our allies, that Finland takes care of its own security, we take care of the security of the EU border." (file photo)

Finland's parliament passed a law on July 12 granting border guards the power to block asylum seekers crossing from Russia, after more than 1,300 people arrived in the country and forced Helsinki to close its border. Finland has accused neighboring Russia of weaponizing migration by encouraging scores of migrants from countries such as Syria and Somalia to cross the border, an assertion the Kremlin denies. Helsinki believes Moscow is promoting the crossings in retaliation for Finland joining NATO, which is backing Ukraine against Russia's invasion. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has said the bill is vital to stop future arrivals, despite the law being at odds with its international human rights commitments. Finland shut its land borders with Russia late last year.

Sukhoi Superjet Crashes Near Moscow, Killing All 3 Aboard

Sukhoi Superjet 100 (file photo)
Sukhoi Superjet 100 (file photo)

Emergency officials in the Moscow region said on July 12 that a Sukhoi Superjet 100 passenger plane crashed near the city of Kolomna, near the Russian capital, killing all three crew members on board. The plane was on its way to Moscow's Vnukovo airport after a regular technical evaluation and repair work. The plane, made in 2014, belonged to the Gazprom Avia company. Kolomna Mayor Aleksandr Grechishchev, who visited the crash site, said there were no casualties beyond the three crew members. A probe was launched into the "violation of safety regulations aboard aircraft that led to deaths." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Ukraine's Top Prosecutor Wants International Court To Open Case On Kyiv Hospital Attack

Mourners stand next to the grave in Lviv of Svitlana Lukyanchuk, a 30-year-old physician who was killed in the suspected Russian missile strike on Kyiv's Okhmatdyt children's hospital.
Mourners stand next to the grave in Lviv of Svitlana Lukyanchuk, a 30-year-old physician who was killed in the suspected Russian missile strike on Kyiv's Okhmatdyt children's hospital.

Ukraine's top prosecutor has called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Russia over a missile strike on a children's hospital in Kyiv earlier this week. On July 8, Ukraine's capital suffered one of its worst days of air strikes since the start of Russia's war, and attacks across the country killed at least 44 people, including two adults at the Okhmatdyt children's hospital, Ukrainian officials have said. "For the sake of international justice, cases like the intentional attack on the biggest child hospital in Kyiv [are] worth lifting to the ICC," Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin told Reuters late on July 11 in an interview in The Hague, where the ICC is based. Moscow denies attacking the hospital and has blamed Ukrainian anti-missile fire. A UN rights mission has said there is a "high likelihood" the hospital took a direct hit from a Russian missile.

Kazakh Court Rejects Appeal Filed By Pro-Ukrainian Woman Against 'Hatred' Conviction

Qalima Zhaparova in a Kazakh courtroom on May 23
Qalima Zhaparova in a Kazakh courtroom on May 23

The Shymkent City Court in southern Kazakhstan on July 12 rejected an appeal filed by a pro-Ukrainian resident, Qalima Zhaparova, against a two-year parole-like sentence she was handed in May on a charge of inciting ethnic hatred. On May 24, after her sentence was pronounced, Zhaparova shouted, "Glory to Ukraine!" The 63-year-old was arrested in November after an ethnic Russian woman filed a complaint accusing Zhaparova of insulting her and her ethnicity while on public transport. Zhaparova rejected the accusation, saying she was reacting to the woman's viewpoint regarding the war in Ukraine when she openly condemned Russia's full-scale invasion. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

U.S. Diplomat Says Kyiv's Drive Toward Western Norms Will Thwart Moscow's Aggression

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien during an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Zoriana Stepanenko. Washington, NATO summit, July 11
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien during an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Zoriana Stepanenko. Washington, NATO summit, July 11

WASHINGTON -- Ukraine's position in its battle to repel invading Russian troops has improved recently and Kyiv's drive to integrate with Western democratic structures will ultimately triumph over Moscow's aggression, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien told RFE/RL in an interview.

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.

Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington, D.C. on July 11, O'Brien said the fastest way to peace is for Ukraine to be strong enough to win the war, which is why the military alliance, and the United States in particular, are stepping up supplies and aid to Kyiv to help drive out Russia while at the same time preserving a functioning economy.

NATO this week announced a major aid package to support Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion, including the delivery of long-awaited U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and the provision of $43 billion in military assistance within the next year.

"I think the quickest path to peace is that Ukraine be strong enough to win the war and between what we are doing here this week and what has been done in recent months, we feel very confident that Ukraine will be able to say to Russia we can continue fighting and defeating you through 2025," O'Brien said.

U.S. officials earlier in the week said that despite an intensification of air strikes and moves on the battlefield by Russia's army, Ukraine's position has improved since a $61 billion aid package was passed by Congress in April.

O'Brien said that by the end of the year, Kyiv will be able to say it has pushed back Russia, showing its resolve, and that of its allies.

"It’s clear that Ukraine will thrive, it will integrate in the West, it will be able to join the EU, as it was just invited to do, as it reforms, and in all of that, I don't think Russia will be able to maintain a conflict. The key to Russia's frozen conflicts is that it tries to keep those societies from joining the West and the rule of law. And that's not going to be allowed as part of the solution to this conflict," O'Brien said.

In order to reclaim ground and weaken Russia's war machine, Kyiv has been pushing Washington and other key allies to remove restrictions on the use of weapons they give Ukraine's army.

The issue of how Ukraine uses their donated weaponry is up to individual NATO members to decide. Some have said Kyiv can use them to strike Russian territory, while others have said their donated weapons can only be used within Ukraine.

Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskiy’s administration, told a NATO forum this week that lifting restrictions on how Ukraine uses donated weapons would be a “game-changer.”

O'Brien said discussions about how U.S. weaponry is to be used are ongoing to ensure their usage "is the most effective in military terms" and that Ukraine is still able to use "its own weapons" as it deems suitable.

"The president [Joe Biden] has said that we provide the weapons Ukraine's able to use in an effective way at a time it's able to use them...Any chances that limitations will be lifted? I think we always have discussions with Ukraine about what's most militarily effective," he added.

The NATO summit ended with a communique stating Ukraine is on an "irreversible path" to membership in the alliance.

O'Brien said NATO is giving Ukraine "the tools it needs" to go through the reform process necessary to become a member, including for the first time placing a senior civilian representative in a candidate country to help it navigate the process.

"As Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken has said, there will be a bridge to NATO, it will be short, unimpeded, well-lit, assisted to help Ukraine join. And that's why we say it's irreversible. Do the work, come in. And that's what's necessary and always has been."

Pakistani High Court Orders Jailed Ex-PM Khan's Party Into Assemblies

Protesters in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demanding the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 8.
Protesters in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demanding the release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on June 8.

Pakistan's Supreme Court on July 12 ordered that special seats in national and provincial assemblies for women and minorities be given to jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) party, reversing rulings by the Peshawar High Court and the national Election Commission regarding elections in February. Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Isa led the 13-member court decision ruling that the PTI was still a political party and was unfairly excluded from the vote process. It said the PTI should submit its list of candidates to fill the special seats to the Election Commission within 15 days. Seventy-seven representatives had been disqualified from national and provincial assemblies. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Orban-Backed Challenger Admits Defeat In Budapest Mayoral Race

Budapest mayoral candidate was backed David Vitezy by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in last month's election. (file photo)
Budapest mayoral candidate was backed David Vitezy by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in last month's election. (file photo)

Budapest's Fidesz-backed mayoral challenger conceded defeat on July 12 after Hungary's National Election Commission announced a recount had confirmed a razor-thin victory for opposition incumbent Gergely Karacsony. The challenger, David Vitezy, had gone to court over the results of the June 9 local elections, alleging widespread errors in the vote, but he acknowledged defeat in a Facebook post. Karacsony, representing the opposition green party Dialogue, received 293 more votes than Vitezy out of more than 742,000 valid ballots counted. Vitezy had the support of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose Fidesz party has ruled Hungary for 14 years.

Russian Soldier Opens Fire At Fellow Servicemen In Belgorod Region

Russian soldiers (file photo)
Russian soldiers (file photo)

A Russian soldier opened fire at fellow servicemen in the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine before fleeing the site. The governor of the Graivoron district, Gennady Bondarev, told the state RT news agency on July 12 that there were no civilian casualties, but he gave no further details, including whether other soldiers were killed or wounded. Several Telegram channels, however, reported that two soldiers were killed and one wounded in the incident, which took place overnight. Some Telegram channels identified the shooter as Aleksei Zhuravlyov from Russia's Republic of Chuvashia. Officials have not commented on the shooting. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

OSCE Official Gets Jail Term For 'Spying' In Russian-Occupied Ukraine

Vehicles of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine in the Donetsk region in April 2020
Vehicles of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine in the Donetsk region in April 2020

A court in Ukraine's Russian-controlled Donetsk region on July 12 jailed a member of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine for "espionage" in a judgment condemned by the European security organization. The Supreme Court of the Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the Donetsk People's Republic found Vadym Holda, 56, guilty and sentenced him to 14 years in a strict-regime penal colony, Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemned it as "a grave violation of participating states' commitments under international law" and called for the immediate release of Holda and two other jailed OSCE officials.

Updated

Former Georgian Officials Rue Near-Exclusion From NATO Declaration

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg leave talks in Tbilisi on March 18.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (right) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg leave talks in Tbilisi on March 18.

A former Georgian defense minister and Tbilisi's former ambassador to the United States have lamented the reduced language devoted to Georgia in the declaration that emerged from this week's NATO summit in Washington.

Pursuit of EU and NATO membership remains embedded in the post-Soviet Caucasus nation's constitution, but the current Georgian government's passage of a perceived Russian-style law to curb media and NGOs has dealt a blow to both efforts.

Whereas former declarations have mentioned Georgian cooperation with the transatlantic defense alliance, NATO members this week limited the text to a single reference urging Russia to completely withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia.

NATO allies controversially pledged in the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration that Georgia would eventually become a member, providing it fulfilled requirements.

That decision was reconfirmed in the wake of Russia's five-day war with Georgia in August 2008 and Russia's ongoing occupation of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

Tina Khidasheli, Georgia's defense minister in 2015-16 and a critic of the current Georgian Dream government, told RFE/RL that she was shocked at the exclusion and hoped "that it is only temporary."

"I didn't have high expectations, but I didn't expect anything like that, that they would neither repeat the record of the Bucharest summit, nor talk about the NATO-Georgia program, nor mention the essential package of the Wales summit," she said.

A 2022 NATO summit in Madrid approved specific "support measures" for Georgia as a partner seemingly at risk from Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade Ukraine months earlier.

But EU officials have checked the momentum of Georgia's candidacy, and the United States has undertaken a "comprehensive review" of relations with Tbilisi since the so-called "foreign agent" law was passed in May over pro-European President Salome Zurabishvili's veto.

Prime Minister and Georgian Dream leader Irakli Kobakhidze, who in May accused a former U.S. ambassador of supporting two attempted revolutions in Georgia, responded to Washington's review by calling for a review of relations with the United States.

"The main issue regarding Georgia is that Georgia is no longer on the Euro-Atlantic agenda and that there has been a democratic backsliding in Georgia, which may bring irreparable consequences," Batu Kutelia, a former Georgian ambassador to the United States, told RFE/RL regarding the perceived NATO snub.

In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering legislation calling for increased scrutiny of the Georgian government's actions and its ties to Russia and other authoritarian regimes like China.

The so-called Megobari Act passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 11, a spokesman for Representative Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina) said on July 12.

The act, which takes its name from the word that means friend in Georgian, mandates several reports, including an assessment of Russian intelligence's penetration of Georgia and Tbilisi's cooperation with China.

Wilson, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said on X, formerly Twitter, that he was grateful for the passage of the measure, which makes it "very clear that we support the people of the nation of Georgia" and adding that the Georgian people "have made it clear they want to live in a free and democratic Georgia."

The bill is expected to come to a vote in the full House before Congress adjourns for summer break in August.

Wilson has said he wants the bill to become law ahead of Georgian elections in October.

Siberian Artist Gets 9 Years In Prison For Wiring $30 To Ukraine

Tatyana Laletina
Tatyana Laletina

The Tomsk regional court in Siberia said on July 11 that 21-year-old artist Tatyana Laletina had been handed a nine-year prison term two weeks earlier for wiring $10 to a Ukrainian fund on February 24, 2022, the day when Russia started its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and then another $20 two months later. An associate of Laletina had said earlier that the artist was detained in late February for sending $30 to Ukraine. Further details of the case and how Laletina pleaded are unknown. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.

Fake Security Officer Who Extorted Bribes From Foreigner Arrested In Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz authorities said on July 12 that a man who impersonated an officer for the State Committee for National Security was arrested two days earlier while reportedly accepting $3,000 from a Chinese national. Investigators allege the man had extorted $18,000 from the victim earlier, "promising" to close an unspecified probe launched against him. Several cases of impersonating law enforcement officers to extort money from foreigners have taken place in the Central Asian nation in the past. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

UN Condemns Russia, Urges 'Urgent Withdrawal' Of Forces From Ukrainian Nuclear Plant

A photo from 2023 of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe's largest.
A photo from 2023 of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, Europe's largest.

The UN General Assembly on July 11 condemned "Moscow's failure to implement" resolutions concerning the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant by the assembly and by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It demanded that Russia "urgently withdraw its military and other unauthorized personnel" from the facility and "immediately return the plant to the full control of Ukraine’s competent authorities to ensure its safety and security." In a press statement, the UN said the vote was 99 in favor of the resolution, nine against, and 60 abstentions. The text also "demanded that the Russian Federation immediately cease its aggression against Ukraine and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from Ukraine’s territory within its internationally recognized borders."

Daghestani Man Reportedly Commits Suicide In Austria Before Deportation To Russia

Armed policemen patrol in the center of Vienna, Austria, following a shooting incident in November 2020.
Armed policemen patrol in the center of Vienna, Austria, following a shooting incident in November 2020.

Austrian media reported on July 11 that a native of Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan who was suspected of being a member of the Islamic State's Khorasan branch committed suicide hours before being deported to Russia. The 40-year-old man, whose identity was not disclosed, was suspected of being involved in plotting terrorist attacks on Catholic cathedrals in Vienna and the German city of Cologne. After police were unable to collect enough evidence to officially charge him, a decision was taken to deport him to Russia, reports said. To read the original story by RFER/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Montenegrin High Court Acquits Alleged 2016 Coup Plotters

Lawyers for the defense talk to reporters outside the High Court in Podgorica on July 11.
Lawyers for the defense talk to reporters outside the High Court in Podgorica on July 11.

The 13 Montenegrin, Russian, and Serbian individuals accused of plotting an election-day coup in Montenegro in 2016 were acquitted of all charges by that Balkan country's High Court on July 12, marking the latest twist in a seven-year prosecutorial saga since authorities claimed to have thwarted a last-ditch conspiracy to derail Montenegro's NATO accession.

Prosecutors had alleged that the Russian-organized plot included plans to attack parliament and assassinate longtime leader and then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

But at the end of a retrial ordered in 2021, the three-judge panel decided "there was no evidence that the defendants were guilty of the crimes they were charged with, so they are acquitted," according to Judge Zoran Radovic.

The Special Prosecutor's Office is expected to appeal the acquittals.

The defendants include the current speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, Andrija Mandic, along with two other senior members of the pro-Russian, right-wing populist Democratic Front party.

Two Russians tried in absentia were accused of organizing and financing the purported coup attempt, along with a retired Serbian police commander and seven other Serbian nationals who were arrested on election day more than seven years ago.

An initial court decision in May 2019 over terrorism charges resulted in guilty verdicts and a combined 70 years in prison for the defendants before that ruling was overturned in 2021.

Russia has resisted calls for the handover of alleged plotters Eduard Sismakov and Vladimir Popov.

On July 11, Judge Radovic said that, in order for someone to be declared guilty, there must be certainty in the facts, "and there is none."

He said the weapons alleged to have been organized for the coup attempt "never entered Montenegro, the equipment that was supposed to be used for the forced entry into the Assembly was not brought into Montenegro, and the claim that the special units were supposed to shoot at the Montenegrin police has not been proven."

Neither the special prosecutors nor the accused were present at the announcement of the acquittal.

Mandic and the other Montenegrin suspects accused Djukanovic of political retaliation against the then-opposition through the Special Prosecutor's Office.

Federal Penitentiary Service Chief In Russia's Rostov Resigns After Hostage Crisis

Police officers stand near detention center No.1 in Rostov-on-Don during a hostage crisis on June 16.
Police officers stand near detention center No.1 in Rostov-on-Don during a hostage crisis on June 16.

The chief of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in Russia's southwestern Rostov region, Dmitry Berzrukikh, and his deputy resigned following a hostage-taking incident at detention center No.1 in the regional capital, Rostov-on-Don, last month. FSIN said on July 12 that, after an internal investigation, four FSIN officers were fired and 16 officers faced disciplinary repercussions. Six inmates of the detention center took two guards hostage on June 16. The hostages were released after special troops stormed the building, killing four hostage-takers. Two hostage-takers who survived were charged with belonging to Islamic groups banned in Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Zelenskiy Hails Ukraine Compact As 'Important Achievement' For Kyiv, Others

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, attend a Ukraine Compact event on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Washington on July 11.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, attend a Ukraine Compact event on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Washington on July 11.

WASHINGTON -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed a new agreement on long-term support for Ukraine finalized at this week's NATO summit in Washington as an "important achievement" and praised the U.S. leadership for its "decisive action" to ensure Ukrainian security.

The conclusion of the so-called "Ukraine Compact" committing the United States and more than 20 countries plus the European Union to help protect Ukraine was announced by U.S. President Joe Biden at a joint press conference alongside other NATO leaders and Zelenskiy at the close of the summit on July 11.

NATO Summit Ends With Promises To Ukraine, New Scrutiny Of Biden
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"This Ukrainian agreement, which we are concluding, takes our relations to a new level," Zelenskiy said. "It is an important achievement for Ukraine and all of us."

"I thank President Biden for his leadership and efforts to ensure that our security cooperation is full of decisive action," Zelenskiy said. "There are 23 strong agreements, and there will be agreements with other countries. And we have a historically important security agreement with the United States."

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He said the agreement had helped Kyiv acquire crucially important air-defense systems to help fight off Russia's ongoing, 28-month-old full-scale invasion.

Twenty-four NATO leaders and Ukraine approved the compact as part of boosted defense and other commitments to Ukraine.

The signatories also pledged to meet "rapidly and collectively" at the highest level in the event of a future attack by Russia on Ukraine after the cessation of the current conflict.

Biden has called the compact a "central part" of the "bridge" on Ukraine's path toward NATO.

"[H]ere today, with all these important people behind me, we take another important step in our collective support for Ukraine," Biden told the press conference. "Last year, the G7 nations...signed on to a declaration to protect Ukraine long term, not just for the duration of this war but beyond, after they win. Twenty-five additional countries quickly joined them and pledged to negotiate and sign a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine."

Biden said "more countries are finalizing theirs as we speak."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the summit that the alliance was “putting in place the foundations for Ukraine to prevail” in its effort to defend itself against Russia and said the alliance “cannot and will not allow this to happen again.”

“Violence and intimidation do not pay,” Stoltenberg said.

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