- By Todd Prince
U.S. To Publish New Central Asia Strategy Amid Russian, Chinese Competition, Afghan Threat
WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration plans to publish a new U.S. strategy for Central Asia as China and Russia fight for influence in the energy-rich region and militants from Afghanistan threaten to destabilize it, a senior State Department official has said.
The United States has "intensified" its bilateral diplomatic engagements with the five Central Asian countries this year, the State Department official said during a background briefing on December 13, following a meeting the day before with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi.
A U.S. delegation traveled to Kyrgyzstan in July for the first time in four years while the State Department hosted Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov in November. The State Department will host Tajik and Uzbek government delegations for annual consultations in the spring, he said.
"This regional and bilateral engagement reflects the objectives and priorities embedded in the Trump administration's new Central Asia strategy, which we hope to brief publicly soon. The strategy will highlight our commitment to deepening our political, economic, and military engagement with Central Asia," the senior State Department official said.
The increase in U.S. diplomatic contacts comes as China's economic and political influence in Central Asia grows and it seeks to strong-arm those countries to return asylum seekers from Xinjiang, a major concern for the Trump administration. The greater interest also comes as the United States seeks to exit its 18-year war in Afghanistan, which borders several of the countries.
China is pumping billions of dollars into Central Asian infrastructure as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which some U.S. officials and analysts have said is burdening the countries with debt loads that they cannot pay back. Russia continues to maintain significant influence over the former Soviet states as well.
The desire of Central Asian states to pursue closer relations with the United States and the West may be driven "by a feeling of pressure from these other larger neighbors and a desire to have a counterweight," the State Department official said. That pressure is also pushing the five countries to promote more projects that enhance their connectivity and economic ties, he said.
"There's a recognition on the part of these countries that they are stronger -- and more independent -- if they're able to kind of cooperate and trade and do business more effectively with one another," the State Department official said.
The senior State Department official said Washington was concerned about China using its economic leverage over the Central Asian states to force them to return Chinese citizens of Uyghur ethnicity seeking asylum.
UN experts and activists say at least 1 million Uyghurs, and members of other largely Muslim minority groups, have been detained in camps in the Xinjiang region, which borders Central Asia. Beijing insists the detention sites are "vocational centers" aimed at training and skills development.
"The officials in these countries have, generally speaking, not been publicly critical of what's going on in Xinjiang. But at the same time, there are certainly a number of people in their population who are aware of what's going on and are concerned. These governments are just trying to navigate a very difficult position vis-a-vis their relationship with their neighbors and their obligations," he said.
The State Department official said the United States was tracking the cases of Uyghur asylum seekers and has no knowledge of Kazakhstan having forcibly returned any individuals. However, a couple of cases are still pending in the country's courts, he said.
"We're waiting to see how the judicial process plays out, and meanwhile continuing to remind Kazakhstan of its international obligations," he said.
The official said the United States was working with the Central Asian states to reintegrate Afghanistan -- where U.S. troops have been fighting militants since 2001 -- into the region.
However, he said the embattled country remained a source of instability for the region and that the Central Asian states needed to step up their border security to prevent threats.
"I think the main concern that we have -- and certainly the countries of the region have -- is, of course, their border with Afghanistan. And there is certainly concern about the flow of terrorist fighters from Afghanistan, and there's concern that instability in Afghanistan could adversely affect the stability of the countries of the region," he said.
The official said a November attack on the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan appears to have been the work of terrorists connected with Islamic State. However, he said it was still unclear if the attackers came from Afghanistan or Tajikistan.
The senior administration official also said the Central Asian states had made progress on repatriating hundreds of citizens from Syria and Iraq. Kazakhstan, he said, had returned more than 600 citizens, including dozens of fighters.
The United States assisted with the transportation of some of the citizens back to Central Asia as well as with rehabilitation and reintegration, he said.
Heavy Rain In Northwest Pakistan Leaves At Least 20 Dead, 80 Injured
Heavy rain swept through northwestern Pakistan on June 10, causing several houses to collapse and leaving at least 20 people dead and 80 injured, authorities said. Rain and hail hit the Bannu, Lakki Marwat, and Karak districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, senior rescue officer Khateer Ahmed said. The severe weather also uprooted trees and knocked down electrical transmission towers. Officials were working to provide emergency relief, Ahmed said. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed grief over the loss of life from the storm and directed authorities to pick up the pace of the relief operation.
Romanian Ambassador To Kenya Recalled For Racist Comment Comparing African Diplomats To Monkeys
Romania has recalled its ambassador to Kenya for making a racist comment that equated Africans to monkeys while convening a meeting at a UN building in Nairobi.
Dragos Viorel Tigau touched off a controversy when he said “the African group has joined us” after a black monkey appeared at the window of the conference room ahead of the meeting on April 26.
The African diplomats were not yet present when Tigau made the comment, which some people in attendance found to be insensitive and disrespectful, the website Kenyan Foreign Policy reported on June 8.
Kenyan diplomat Macharia Kamau said on Twitter that the episode "appalled and disgusted" him.
"Utter shame attempts to cover up this disgrace,” Kamau tweeted on June 8. “This [is] intolerable and unacceptable in any age, let alone [the] 21st century."
The comment prompted the African group of diplomats to seek clarification from Tigau and the Kenyan Foreign Ministry.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry said it had only been informed of the incident this week and Țigau was recalled as soon as it found out. The recall procedure has already been initiated, it said.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs deeply regrets this situation, apologizes to all those affected and strongly rejects and condemns any behavior and any attitude incompatible with mutual respect. Any racist behavior or comments are absolutely unacceptable."
Tigau “presented his apology, including in writing," the ministry added, saying that its statement was communicated to African ambassadors in Bucharest on June 9 at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry “hopes that the incident will not affect the relationship with the countries of the African continent,” the statement said.
With reporting by AFP and Kenyan Foreign Policy
Russia Still Dissatisfied With Black Sea Grain Deal After UN Talks
Russia is still not satisfied with how a Black Sea grain deal is being implemented, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said on June 10 after meeting UN trade officials in Moscow, TASS reported. Russia has threatened to walk away from the deal next month if demands to improve its own food and fertilizer exports are not met. The deal, struck in July last year, facilitates the "safe navigation" of grain and fertilizer to global markets. Vershinin said "barriers" to Russian exports remain. Moscow's demands include the reconnection of the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the SWIFT international payment system. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Serbians March In Sixth Anti-Government Demonstration Since Mass Shootings
Tens of thousands of people marched in Belgrade on June 9, criticizing the Serbian government's response to two mass shootings last month in which 18 people died. Cardboard figures depicting President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic in black-and-white striped prison suits were left in front of the government building. The sixth "Serbia against violence" protest since the first shooting on May 3 called for "stopping the promotion of violence in the public space," the removal of the interior minister and the head of the intelligence agency, and an end to the promotion of violence in the media and the public space. Earlier this week, in response to the string of mass protests, Vucic promised early parliamentary elections and the prime minister offered her resignation.
Russia Says Iceland 'Destroys' Ties By Suspending Embassy Operations
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on June 10 that Iceland's decision to suspend its embassy operations in Moscow "destroys" bilateral cooperation. Iceland said on June 9 that the operations would be suspended from August 1 due to an "all-time low" level of commercial, cultural, and political relations between the countries, adding that it had asked Russia to scale back its diplomatic activities in Reykjavik. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that "We will take this unfriendly decision into account when building our ties with Iceland in the future. All anti-Russian actions of Reykjavik will inevitably be followed by a corresponding reaction." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
- By Current Time
Joint Investigation IDs Over 25,000 Russian Troops Killed In Ukraine
Joint investigating by independent Russian media outlet Mediazona and the BBC's Russian service has recently confirmed more than 1,200 newly identified Russian troop deaths in Ukraine, putting the number of Russians killed and identified through open sources so far in the 15-month invasion at 25,218. Russia classifies its casualty figures and punishes many aspects of reporting on the conflict. Some sources suggest the actual number of Russian dead could be around twice the Mediazona/BBC figure. To read the original report by Current Time, click here.
Kazakh President Replaces Emergencies Minister As Deadly Wildfires Scorch East
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev appointed a new emergency situations minister on June 10, hours after the dismissal of his predecessor with deadly wildfires roaring in the northeast of that Central Asian country. Fifty-six-year-old ministry veteran Syrym Sharipkhanov takes over from Yury Ilyin with a regional state of emergency declared in the east and at least three forest rangers dead and 11 others reported incommunicado a day earlier. The fires have burned some 60,000 hectares of thick forest around Abai, but authorities said early on June 10 that the situation was "stabilizing." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.
Iran's Rekabi Competes In First Climbing Tournament Since Head-Scarf Controversy
Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi participated in a women's boulder World Cup event in Brixen, Italy, on June 9, her first tournament since she competed in an international contest without a head scarf last year. In October, Rekabi competed in South Korea without a hajib, later saying she had done so unintentionally. The incident occurred at a time of unprecedented protests in Iran over the death in custody of a young woman detained by morality police for "inappropriate attire." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Trudeau Pledges More Military Aid To Ukraine In Second Surprise Visit To Kyiv
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged more military aid to Kyiv on June 10 during an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian capital and denounced the destruction of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine.
Trudeau announced a new package of military aid worth C$500 million ($375 million) and said Canada will take part in a multinational effort to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.
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Canada also will supply 287 additional air defense missiles to the Ukrainian military and 10,000 155-millimeter projectiles, the prime minister said.
Canada has already provided billions of dollars in aid, including C$1 billion ($750 million), he said, adding that the people of Ukraine "can count on the fact that Canada will continue its political, financial, humanitarian, and military support as long as necessary."
Trudeau, whose surprise visit to Kyiv was his second since the start of the war in February 2022, told a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Canada was seizing a Russian-owned Antonov cargo aircraft that landed in Canada last year and starting the process of forfeiting the aircraft to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy said during the press conference that Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive was under way but declined to give any details.
"Counteroffensive and defensive actions are taking place in Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said in response to a question about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim on June 9 that Ukrainian forces had begun their counteroffensive. He also listed Ukraine's top military officers by name, saying they all are "in a positive mood," telling reporters to "pass that on to Putin."
He added: "It's interesting what Putin said about our counteroffensive. It is important that Russia always feels this.... They do not have long left, in my opinion."
In his comments about the collapse of the Kakhovka dam, Trudeau stopped short of blaming Russia, citing the ongoing investigation.
"I know there are investigators and there are a lot of questions and intelligence being analyzed on what exactly happened to have this dam collapse," he said. "But there is no doubt in my mind that absent Russia's invasion of last February, that dam would still be standing today."
Zelenskiy’s office said he and Trudeau adopted a declaration noting that Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.
Canada, which is home to many Ukrainian emigrants, has been one of Kyiv's key allies since the Russian invasion. In addition to providing Ukraine with significant military aid, it has trained more than 36,000 soldiers and adopted sanctions against Moscow.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
German Chancellor Says He Plans To Speak To Putin 'Soon'
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on June 10 that he planned to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone soon to urge him to withdraw Russia's troops from Ukraine. Addressing a convention of the German Protestant church in Nuremberg, Scholz said he had spoken to Putin by telephone in the past. "I plan to do it again soon," he said, adding that "It's not reasonable to force Ukraine to approve and accept the raid that Putin has perpetrated and that parts of Ukraine become Russian just like that." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
New Zealand Broadcaster Probes Edits That Presented 'False,' 'Russian View' Of Ukraine War
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.
UN Court Clears 32 Of Kyiv's Allies To Participate In Trial Alleging Genocide Against Russia
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has admitted requests by 32 of Ukraine's allies to join a trial in which Kyiv alleges that Russia is guilty of genocide in the current war and that Moscow misused the international genocide convention to falsely justify its invasion of Ukraine last year. The 14-to-1 decision by the UN's highest judges clears the way for all 26 EU members minus Hungary to participate in the trial, along with other allies but not the United States. Russia has boycotted the process. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.
Warsaw Official: Reports Implicating Poland In Nord Stream Sabotage Are Consistent With Russian Propaganda
A Polish government official said news reports suggesting a link between Poland and explosions that damaged the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea last year echo Russian propaganda.
Stanislaw Zaryn, deputy to Poland's minister coordinator of special services, said on Twitter on June 10 that the "Russian apparatus of influence" consistently uses information about Ukrainian or Polish involvement in the destruction of the pipelines to create the impression that Warsaw and Kyiv were behind the incident.
Zaryn made the comment in a series of tweets that also said the Russians "create more and more events shaped according to a logically coherent sequence, but based on untrue premises or a lie." He added that Russian disinformation "continues to try to divide Poles and Ukrainians."
A Wall Street Journal report earlier on June 10 said German investigators are examining evidence suggesting a sabotage team used Poland as an operating base to damage the pipelines.
The report said investigators have fully reconstructed the two-week voyage of the Andromeda, a 15-meter white pleasure yacht suspected of being involved in the sabotage of the pipelines.
The Journal cited people familiar with the voyage as indicating that the sabotage crew placed deep-sea explosives on Nord Stream 1 before setting the vessel on a course toward Poland.
It added that Germany was trying to match DNA samples found on the vessel "to at least one Ukrainian soldier."
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, each consisting of two pipes, were built by Russia's state-controlled Gazprom to pump natural gas to Germany. The destruction of the pipelines occurred about seven months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the United States had learned of a Ukrainian plan to attack the pipelines three months before they were damaged by the underwater explosions.
German media in March identified the possible involvement of a yacht from a Poland-based company owned by Ukrainian citizens in the attack and said investigators had searched the yacht on suspicions that "the vessel in question may have been used to transport explosive devices.”
German media said some of the people who chartered the yacht may have shown Ukrainian passports for identification and reported that an unnamed Western intelligence agency communicated to European security agencies that a Ukrainian commando group was responsible.
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly denied any involvement in the explosions. Russia has also denied it was behind the blasts.
U.S. officials called the blasts sabotage, and European authorities later said that the sophistication of the incident -- in particular the depths at which the explosives would have been placed -- pointed to a state actor with access to complex diving equipment and detonators.
Sweden and Denmark have been leading the investigation into the explosions, which occurred on September 26 inside the boundaries of their economic zone. Both countries said the incident was deliberate but have yet to determine who was responsible.
A report by a consortium of Nordic news organization May 3 said Russian naval ships were repeatedly in the vicinity of the Nord Stream pipelines prior to the blast.
The ships included a Russian naval research vessel called the Sibiryakov, as well as a tugboat, and a third Russian naval ship. The tugboat, called SB-123, reportedly arrived on September 21, five days before the explosion, and remained there for the entire evening and night before sailing back toward Russia.
That vessel had been previously identified by the German news site T-Online as one of six vessels suspected of being involved in the explosions.
The Nordic broadcasters’ report said the ships had turned off their transmitters -- GPS-like devices that many ships around the world use to broadcast their locations.
Prior to that report, Finnish and Danish media published accounts based on marine tracking data that cast suspicion on a Greek-flagged oil and chemical tanker. The ship drifted within 500 meters of the site of the explosions before sailing to Tallinn on September 14 and then on to St. Petersburg.
The Athens-based owner of the tanker confirmed to RFE/RL that the ship drifted near the site but said it had been awaiting voyage orders.
With reporting by Reuters
Ukrainian Military Reports Heavy Clashes In East As Zelenskiy Says Counteroffensive Actions Under Way
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces on June 10 focused their main efforts on the full occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian counteroffensive actions were under way.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said 28 combat clashes took place during the day, and the Ukrainian Air Force made 15 strikes on the concentration points of the Russian Army.
Ukrainian rocket and artillery fire struck two control points, five areas of troop concentrations, weapons, and military equipment, one artillery unit in a firing position, and four other "important objects of the occupiers," the summary states.
In addition, the enemy carried out 66 air strikes and launched 39 attacks from rocket systems.
"Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded among the civilian population, private houses and other civil and administrative infrastructure have been destroyed and damaged," the General Staff said in its evening update.
The report said Ukrainian forces had repelled enemy attacks around Bakhmut and Maryinka, sites of heavy clashes in the east. Russian forces, it said, "continue to suffer heavy losses which they are trying to conceal."
RFE/RL cannot independently confirm the battlefield claims.
Zelenskiy said earlier that Ukrainian counteroffensive operations were under way but declined to divulge details. Speaking at a joint press conference in Kyiv with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Zelenskiy told reporters to pass on to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine's generals are "all in a positive mood."
Later on June 10 in his nightly video address, Zelenskiy cited the eastern and southern fronts, where fighting is heaviest.
"Thank you to all those who hold their positions and those who advance," he said.
Earlier on June 10 a UN official warned of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the demise this week of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River.
Floodwaters receded slightly in some parts of southern Ukraine but surged in others early in the day as rescue efforts continued and Ukraine's nuclear energy agency put the last operating reactor at Europe's largest nuclear plant into "cold shutdown" as a safety precaution after the breach of the dam.
Ukraine's Enerhoatom nuclear energy agency said it had put the last of six reactors at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant into "cold shutdown" two days earlier to counter the danger from the flooding and decline of water levels at the nearby Kakhovka reservoir.
Cold shutdown is when control rods are introduced into a reactor's core to prevent the nuclear fission reactions that normally generate power.
More than 10,000 residents of a region downstream from the major southern city of Kherson were said to have been cut off from the rest of Ukraine as flooding extended to the Inhulets River, a tributary of the Dnieper.
The head of the regional military administration in the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, said on Telegram that 35 settlements have been flooded on the right bank of the Dnieper, and 3,763 houses are under water.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported that at least 27 people were missing in flooded areas of Kherson.
The breach of the Kakhovka dam early this month is feared to be one of Europe's biggest environmental and industrial disasters in decades.
Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has said it intercepted telephone communications between Russian military personnel that "confirm" Russia's involvement in the destruction of the dam, which has been under Russian control since early in the invasion, but Moscow continues to deny responsibility.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time, Reuters, and AP
UN Aid Chief Says Ukraine Faces 'Hugely Worse' Humanitarian Situation After Dam Rupture
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is “hugely worse” than before the Kakhovka dam collapsed, the UN's top aid official warned on June 9. Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths said an “extraordinary” 700,000 people are in need of drinking water and warned that the ravages of flooding in one of the world’s most important breadbaskets will almost inevitably lead to lower grain exports, higher food prices around the world, and less to eat for millions in need. He called it "a viral problem.” The dam and reservoir lie in the Kherson region, which Moscow illegally annexed in September and has occupied for a year. To see the original story by AP, click here.
Serbs Take To Streets In Sixth Anti-Government Protest Since Mass Shootings Last Month
Tens of thousands of people marched on June 9 in another anti-government protest in Belgrade criticizing the government's response to two mass shootings last month in which 18 people died.
The protesters called for the resignation of President Aleksandar Vucic and stuck messages to the door of the government building, including one that said, "Enough is enough."
Cardboard figures depicting Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic in black-and-white striped prison suits were also left in front of the government building.
The march was the sixth "Serbia against violence" protest since the first shooting on May 3, and, like the others, blamed a culture of violence for the shootings. The key demand of the protesters is "stopping the promotion of violence in public space."
Actor Milan Maric addressed the crowd, saying that while the victims' lives cannot be returned, "we can make sure that this doesn't happen again. We want Serbia without violence, Serbia with hope."
Serbia was rocked by unprecedented back-to-back mass shootings last month. The May 3 shooting was at a school in Belgrade and claimed 10 lives. A teenage boy who attended the school was arrested at the scene. The second mass shooting occurred the following day and left eight people dead. A 21-year-old man was arrested in that shooting.
In addition to calling for Vucic to resign, the protesters demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic and security agency chief Aleksandar Vulin, whom they blame for failing to bring criminal groups to justice.
Vucic previously rejected the dismissal of Gasic but did not comment on Vulin.
The protesters also want the withdrawal of national broadcast licenses for television channels Pink TV and Happy TV and a ban on some tabloids they blame for promoting violence. A change of the management of the Radio Television of Serbia was also mentioned as a demand.
The protesters vowed to start "new actions" if their demands are not met by the end of next week.
Brnabic on June 7 said the protesters' demands were political. She offered to resign but also invited the opposition parties -- which have backed the protests --- to take part in dialogue.
Protest leaders have said that they will not speak with the government until all their demands are met.
Vucic said on June 7 that it was clear that there would be extraordinary parliamentary elections and that it was only a matter of choosing the month they will be held. Early elections, however, are not on among the protesters' demands.
Vucic told Reuters on June 9 that his government was not at fault.
"Is the government to blame for crimes that happened? I cannot accept that."
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Pakistan Targets Fiscal Deficit Of 6.54 Percent In Budget Closely Watched By IMF
Pakistan's government will target a budget deficit of 6.54 percent of economic output in the fiscal year starting on July 1, the finance minister said on June 9. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the target during his budget speech to the national legislature. The budget must satisfy the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure the release of bailout money. Dar reiterated that the government hoped to get an agreement with the IMF soon, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as he addressed his cabinet. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
IS-K Claims Afghan Attack On Taliban Official's Funeral
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an explosion inside a mosque during a funeral service for a Taliban official in the northern Afghanistan province of Badakhshan. Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) claimed responsibility in a statement on June 9. The blast occurred on June 8 and killed at least 19 people, including the former Taliban security commander in the city of Baghlan, and wounded 38 others. The funeral was for the Taliban's provincial deputy governor, Nissar Ahmad Ahmadi, who was killed along with his driver in a suicide car bombing three days earlier. IS-K also claimed responsibility for that attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, click here.
U.S. Charges Two Russians In Hack Of Mt. Gox Cryptoexchange
The United States has charged two Russian nationals related to the 2011 hack of the cryptocurrency exchange Mt. Gox and the operation of the illicit cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e. The two Russians – Aleksei Bilyuchenko, 43, and Aleksandr Verner, 29, -- are charged with conspiring to launder approximately 647,000 Bitcoins from their hack of Mt. Gox, which ceased to exist after the theft, the U.S. Justice Department said on June 9. Bilyuchenko is also charged with conspiring with Aleksandr Vinnik to operate BTC-e, which was shut down in 2017. The whereabouts of Bilyuchenko and Verner are unknown. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Iranian Activist Says Authorities Trying To Push Him Out Of The Country
Prominent Iranian civil activist Hossein Ronaghi says he won't leave the country despite moves by the government to ratchet up pressure on him, including the freezing of his bank accounts and the violation of his civil rights.
Ronaghi said in a tweet on June 8 that the Information Ministry had requested he be forced into exile.
"Attacks and sending messages containing death threats are a sign of being pressured to leave the country," he wrote.
"But as I clearly stated before, I will not leave Iran, and if you think I have committed a crime, you can arrest me. But you cannot force me to leave my homeland."
Ronaghi was arrested during recent protests that are rocking the country over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for allegedly improperly wearing a head scarf, or hijab.
Security agents stormed Ronaghi's house and arrested him in September as he was giving an interview to London-based Iran International TV. He was released on bail in November after going on a weekslong hunger strike.
Several other political and civil activists have reported similar experiences after being released from custody, stating that they were repeatedly urged to leave Iran by their interrogators.
Since September 2022, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights, with the judiciary, backed by lawmakers, responding to the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution with a brutal crackdown.
Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others. At least seven protesters have been executed after what rights groups and several Western governments have called "sham" trials.
Several more remain on death row and senior judiciary officials have said they are determined to ensure those convicted and sentenced have their punishments meted out.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Putin Says Transfer Of Tactical Nuclear Weapons To Belarus Will Start Next Month
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 9 during talks with Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka that the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons from Russia to Belarus will begin immediately after the construction of facilities is finished on July 7-8. The move would be the Kremlin's first deployment of such warheads outside Russia since 1991, spurring concerns in the West. Russian authorities have repeatedly raised the specter of the potential use of nuclear weapons since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Russian In Omsk Detained On Treason Charge
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on June 9 that a resident of the Siberian city of Omsk had been detained on a charge of high treason amid a growing number of such cases in recent months. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, allegedly passed classified information related to his former employer -- an industrial facility producing military equipment -- to German intelligence in exchange for German citizenship. In the last five months, 21 treason probes have been launched in Russia, while in 2022, that number was 22. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities, click here.
Uzbek Official Calls For Scrapping Talks With Russia On Constructing Nuclear Power Plant
Rasul Kusherbaev, an adviser to Uzbekistan's natural resources minister and a former lawmaker, has warned against signing of a deal with Russia on the construction of a long-discussed nuclear power plant. In a statement on June 9, Kusherbaev said the idea of a nuclear plant in Uzbekistan was "disastrous" in general, but even if the decision to build it is made, it should not be done with Moscow's involvement, as "Russia is neither a reliable partner, nor a reliable friend, but a bully, an aggressor, a blackmailer who invades someone's territory at any time." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.
Families, Rights Groups Accuse Iranian Government Of Intimidation Tactics By Desecrating Graves
A series of attack on the graves of protesters killed during nationwide protests in Iran have sparked accusations from activists and families of the dead that the government is engaging in a broad pattern of intimidation and disrespect to quell any further unrest following the death of a woman while in police custody in September 2022.
According to reports from the families of the deceased, the gravesites of Majid Kazemi in Isfahan, Abolfazl Adinehzadeh in Mashhad, and Milad Saeedianjou in Izeh have been andalized in recent days.
These come amid other recent reports of the graves of protesters killed during demonstrations beng desecrated, reportedly by Iranian government forces and security personnel.
The government has not commented on the accusations.
Mohammad Hashemi, a relative of Kazemi, said security forces contacted his family on June 7 and said the family had "no right to go to Majid's grave for his [31st] birthday."
Later that night, he added, agents went to the cemetery and set Majid's grave on fire.
The graves of Adinehzadeh and Saeedianjou were also vandalized under the cover of darkness, while in another case, the grave of Majidreza Rahnavard in Mashhad's Behesht Reza cemetery was subjected to multiple attacks, according to family members.
Mahsa Amini's family has also accused security forces of vandalizing the grave of their daughter, whose death ignited nationwide protests that have turned into one of the biggest threats to the Islamic republic's leadership since it took power in 1979.
Rights groups say officials, by concealing burial sites, inhibiting mourning ceremonies, and preventing families from installing tombstones or decorating their relatives' graves with flowers, pictures, badges, or memorial messages, are violating their rights under the International Covenant On Economic, Social, And Cultural Rights.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
U.S. Concerned That Iran Building Drone Factory Inside Russia
The United States says it has information that Iran intends to build a drone-manufacturing facility inside Russia that could become operational next year as Moscow and Tehran step up their military cooperation, posing an increased danger to Ukraine, the Middle East, and to the international community.
White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby said on June 9 that while Iran continued to supply Russia with drones that Moscow uses against Ukrainian civilians in its illegal war in Ukraine, the two countries now were taking steps to bring the drone production closer to the war zone by building a drone factory some 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow.
"We have information that Russia is receiving materials from Iran needed to build a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) manufacturing plant inside Russia. This plant could be fully operational early next year," Kirby said as the NSC released a satellite image of what it said was the location of the factory in Russia's Alabuga Special Economic Zone.
Kirby said that as of last month, Iran had shipped hundreds of suicide drones as well as drone-production-related equipment to Russia using a route across the Caspian Sea.
"The drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea, from Amirabad, Iran, to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine," Kirby said, as the NSC also released a graphic of the route.
Moscow in turn has been providing Iran -- a country that, like Russia, has been under biting international sanctions -- with military equipment on a level that Kirby said was more complex and more expensive than ever.
"Russia has been offering Iran unprecedented defense cooperation, including on missiles, electronics, and air defense," Kirby said, adding that Tehran announced a deal this year to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.
"Iran is seeking to purchase additional military equipment from Russia, including attack helicopters, radars, and YAK-130 combat trainer aircraft. In total, Iran is seeking billions of dollars' worth of military equipment from Russia," Kirby said.
As the drone transfers put both Moscow and Tehran in violation of the arms embargo stated in UN Resolution 2231, the United States and its allies will continue to use all available means to discontinue a partnership that was damaging for the rest of the world," Kirby said.
"This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors, and to the international community. We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public -- and we are prepared to do more," he said.
"We will continue to impose sanctions on the actors involved in the transfer of Iranian military equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine," Kirby said, adding that the United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed new restrictions "to prevent electronic components found in Iranian drones from being able to make their way onto the battlefield in Ukraine."
The U.S. government later on June 9 issued a new advisory to help businesses and other governments better understand the risks posed by the Iranian drones and the illegal means that Iran uses to obtain components for the manufacturing of drones.
"And, critically, we are working with allies and partners to ensure Ukraine has what it needs to defend and rebuild itself, including by providing Ukraine with air defense systems to help Ukraine protect its people," Kirby concluded.
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