U.S. Senate Ratifies 'New Start' Nuclear Treaty With Russia
By Richard Solash
WASHINGTON -- World leaders have hailed the vote in the U.S. Senate ratifying a landmark nuclear arms-control treaty between the United States and Russia.
After months of heated debate and closed-door negotiation, the Senate on December 22 ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, giving President Barack Obama a major foreign-policy victory and U.S.-Russian relations a significant boost.
Senators voted 71 to 26 to approve the treaty, which commits the United States and Russia to reduce their stockpiles of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 -- a reduction of nearly one-third -- within seven years. The treaty also sets new limits on ballistic-missile delivery systems and is accompanied by a verification regime.
A spokeswoman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev noted that the U.S. amendments will need to be considered by Russian lawmakers before they vote in both houses to ratify. In a sign that a first vote in Moscow could come soon, Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian State Duma, said the lower chamber could vote to ratify as early as December 24.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the U.S. ratification a "significant contribution to Euro-Atlantic security," while United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it sends a "clear message" in support of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
Japan, site of the world's first and only atomic bombings at the end of World War II, said the move marked "important progress" in disarmament efforts by Washington and Moscow.
Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Obama said he was pleased that the Senate had passed what he called "my top national security priority for this session of Congress."
"This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades and it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals, along with Russia. With this treaty, our inspectors will also be back on the ground at Russian nuclear bases. So we will be able to trust but verify," Obama said.
John Kerry (Democrat-Massachusetts), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most vocal proponents of the treaty, told lawmakers in the moments before the vote that their decision would have global implications.
"Regardless of where we stand on the START treaty, this is one of those rare times in the United States Senate -- one of the only times in all of our service here -- when we have it in our power to safeguard or to endanger human life on this planet," he said.
Months Of Political Fighting
Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty, which replaces a 1991 agreement that expired in December 2009, on April 8 in Prague.
U.S. and Russian nuclear inspectors have not visited each other's facilities for more than a year -- a situation that officials in Washington say endangers national security.
Washington's deeply partisan political climate meant that challenges brought by opposition Republican lawmakers in the months since last spring's signing turned the ratification process into a bitter fight.
Republican senators, led by the party's second-most-senior member, Jon Kyl (Arizona), argued that because the treaty acknowledges an interrelationship between offensive and defensive systems, it constrains U.S. plans for a missile defense shield, which Russia views with skepticism.
Several Republicans also voiced concern that the treaty diverts attention away from what they said was a need to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the face of threats from Iran and North Korea.
The Obama administration spent months courting Kyl before today's vote and even sent a team across the country to his Arizona office in an effort to persuade him to drop his opposition. The White House also announced $85 billion in additional funding over the next 10 years to modernize the country's nuclear complex.
The push for ratification included multiple newspaper editorials, speeches, and letters of support from not only Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton, but also from military leaders and former presidents, secretaries of state, and defense secretaries from both the Democratic and Republican parties.
A December 17 "New York Times" editorial urging the Senate to ratify was even signed by the foreign ministers of 25 European countries.
It was not enough to erase Republican concerns, however.
On December 20, Democrats defeated three Republican amendments that they said would have killed the treaty by requiring additional negotiation with Moscow.
That led Kyl to say to lawmakers the following day: "Is the United States just to be a rubber stamp? We can't do anything to change the treaty or the protocol or just the resolution of ratification, which is what we're trying to do here, because the Russians would say no and therefore we can't do it? I thought we're the United States Senate."
In the end, Kyl voted against the treaty.
Capping 'Reset' With Russia
Before the vote, Democrats agreed to accept versions of two Republican amendments -- one recognizing the U.S. commitment to pursue a missile defense system and the other reiterating the U.S. commitment to weapons modernization. Neither one affects the language of the treaty itself.
All told, 13 Republican senators broke with the party leadership to give the treaty the two-thirds majority required for passage. Richard Lugar (Republican-Indiana), a longtime advocate of nuclear nonproliferation, led the Republicans who voted for the treaty.
Obama characterized the treaty as the lynchpin to Washington's reset of relations with Moscow, which he has pursued since taking office last year.
The White House has reaped rewards from the reset, including Russian flyover rights for military planes headed to Afghanistan and Moscow's agreement in June to support a strong set of UN sanctions against Iran for its nuclear ambitions, as Obama noted.
"We'll continue to advance our relationship with Russia, which is essential to making progress on a host of challenges, from enforcing strong sanctions on Iran to preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. And this treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them," he said.
Matthew Rojansky, an expert on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says ratifying New START had become a "litmus test" for the reset in both the United States and Russia.
"We're at a point where it has been made something of a litmus test for the success of the reset from both sides, and so I think, that being the case, perceptions create the reality. You would be very hard-pressed to continue the reset with the same momentum if ratification failed," he says.
The Senate vote was also welcomed in Moscow, where Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it "a gold standard" for arms control pacts, according to Interfax.
U.S. and Russian officials had pledged at the treaty's signing to try to synchronize their respective ratification efforts.
Moscow had voiced impatience in recent months over the U.S. delay in ratification, and on November 3, the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee withdrew its recommendation to ratify the treaty.
with additional agency reporting
Iranian Official Says Conflict With Afghanistan Detrimental To Both Sides
An Iranian Foreign Ministry official has said following the outbreak of border clashes between Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters that any conflict between the two countries is detrimental to both of them.
The May 28 comments on Twitter by Seyyed Rasool Musavi, director of the Iranian Foreign Ministry's South Asia Department, came a day after deadly gunfire was exchanged along the countries' mutual border.
Abdul Nafee Takour, spokesman for the Taliban-led government's Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that one Taliban fighter and one Iranian border guard were killed in the incident.
Iran's official IRNA news agency has said two border guards were killed and two civilians injured.
Each side has accused the other of shooting first.
Tensions over water rights have risen between Iran and Afghanistan in recent weeks. Drought-stricken southeastern Iran is heavily dependent on upriver water flows from Afghanistan, leading to calls for Afghanistan to release more water and accusations that Kabul is not honoring a bilateral water treaty signed in 1973.
The Taliban has denied it is in violation of the agreement, and said low water levels on the Helmand River -- which feeds lakes and wetlands in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province -- preclude releasing more water.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian earlier this month demanded in a call with his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, that Afghan authorities open the gates of the inland Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River "so both the people of Afghanistan and Iran can be hydrated."
During a visit to Sistan-Baluchistan on May 18, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned "the rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the people of Sistan-Baluchistan their water rights," adding that the Taliban should take his words "seriously."
The region is one of the most arid areas of Iran, which has seen multiple public protests over water scarcity in recent years.
Shortly after Raisi's comment, Taliban officials announced the construction of a new dam on the Farah River, which feeds agricultural land in southwestern Afghanistan and also drains into southeastern Iran.
In 2021, prior to the Taliban's seizure of power, Afghanistan completed work on the Kamal Khan Dam, which also sits on the Helmand River.
Zelenskiy Seeks Sanctions On Iran As Ukraine War Rages On
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy initiated sanctions against Iran for a period of 50 years, according to state news agency Unian, referring to a presidential legislative initiative received by the Ukrainian parliament. The bill would ban trade in military equipment and dual-use goods. In addition, Ukraine would also halt its economic and financial obligations to Tehran and prevent the export of capital to Iran. The bill also proposes a ban on technology transfers and investment in Iran. The Ukrainian parliament is expected to back the decision, which has already been approved by the National Security Council.
Iranian Student Suspended From University For Refusing To Wear Hijab Summoned In New Case
Sepideh Rashno, a 28-year-old Iranian writer and student arrested last year for refusing to wear the mandatory hijab, has said she has been summoned to appear before the Tehran Prosecutor's Office in relation to a supposed new case against her.
Rashno announced the development by publishing a photograph of the official judicial notice on her Instagram page.
"A new case has been created and today I was notified that I have to go to the Evin courthouse to explain the charge or imputed charge,"
Rashno said, adding that she believed the summons was related to several Instagram posts that she has published in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Rashno wrote on her Instagram account that she had been banned from studying at Al-Zahra University in Tehran for two semesters for "not observing the Islamic dress code."
She was arrested in June after a video of her arguing with another woman who was enforcing rules on wearing a head scarf on a bus in Tehran went viral.
Rashno was handed a five-year suspended prison sentence in December after being found guilty of "gathering and colluding against the country's security," "propaganda activity against the government," and "appearing without a hijab in public."
Just weeks after Rashno's arrest, mass protests erupted around the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in police custody after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for "improperly" wearing a hijab.
Hundreds of Iranian students are reportedly facing disciplinary committees and possible suspensions at Al-Zahra University over issues related to the mandatory hijab on campus.
According to the Telegram channel Voice of Al-Zahra Students, since the beginning of the Persian New Year in late March, at least 35 students have been suspended from studying for one to two semesters due to issues related to the mandatory hijab and have been deprived of dormitory access until the end of their studies.
Take A Stand On War, Ukraine's Kostyuk Tells Belarus's Sabalenka At French Open
Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Aryna Sabalenka after their first-round match at the French Open and the Ukrainian says the Belarusian should take a stronger, more personal stand against Russia's war against Ukraine. Booing and jeering could be heard from the crowd as Kostyuk left the court after a 6-3 6-2 loss to world No. 2 Sabalenka on May 28. Kostyuk has said she would not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus -- a staging ground for Russia's invasion -- if she feels they have not done enough to speak out against the war. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
NATO Head Urges Kosovo To Ease Tensions With Serbia
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on May 28 called on Kosovo to tone down tensions with Serbia, two days after violent clashes between Kosovar police and protesters opposed to Albanian mayors taking office in ethnic Serbian areas. Stoltenberg, the transatlantic military alliance's Norwegian secretary-general, said he had spoken to European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about Kosovo. He said Pristina and Belgrade must engage in the EU-led dialogue. Serbs, who form the majority of the population in Kosovo's northern region, do not accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Wagner Chief Prigozhin Says Kremlin Blanking Him On State Media Will Provoke Backlash
Russia's most powerful mercenary said on May 28 he was convinced that senior Kremlin officials had banned reporting about him on state media, cautioning that such a misleading approach would lead to a backlash from the Russian people within months. Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the private Wagner Group, is the most striking member of President Vladimir Putin's circle to gain widespread notoriety in the 15-month war in Ukraine. Prigozhin claimed that his mercenary forces gained control of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut earlier this month -- something Ukraine has denied -- but Russian state television gave him little coverage. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Russia Thwarts Drone Attack On Krasnodar Oil Refinery, Officials Say
Russia's air-defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, local officials said on May 28. "Several unmanned aerial vehicles tried to approach the territory of the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar Krai," the region's emergency officials said on Telegram. "All of them were neutralized, the infrastructure of the plant was not damaged." The officials did not say who launched the attack. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
- By RFE/RL
Russia Targets Ukrainian Capital With 'Largest' Drone Attack As City Marks Kyiv Day
Russian forces targeted Kyiv with multiple waves of air strikes early on May 28, Ukrainian officials said, describing the air raid as the "largest" drone attack on the city since the start of the war.
The strikes came on the last Sunday of May when the Ukrainian capital celebrates Kyiv Day, the anniversary of the city's official founding 1,541 years ago.
The Tavberidze Interviews
Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Vazha Tavberidze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service has been interviewing diplomats, military experts, and academics who hold a wide spectrum of opinions about the war's course, causes, and effects. To read all of his interviews, click here.
Ukrainian military officials said 58 out of 59 drones used in the attack were shot down by Ukraine’s defense systems.
Falling debris killed at least one person and wounded two others in Kyiv, according to the city authorities.
Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv's military administration, said Russia used the Iranian-made Shahed drones in the pre-dawn attacks on Kyiv, the largest Ukrainian city with a population of around 3 million.
"Today, the enemy decided to 'congratulate' the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly [unmanned aerial vehicles]," Popko wrote on Telegram.
"The attack was carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than five hours," he added.
Several buildings were damaged, and fires broke out, city officials said.
Falling debris set a three-story warehouse on fire in the Holosiyivskiy district in the southwestern part of Kyiv, destroying 1,000 square meters of building structures, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Falling drone debris also caused a fire in the Solomyanskiy district, a busy rail and air transport hub in the city's west.
The roof of a nine-story building was set on fire by debris in the Pecherskiy district, and a shop was damaged in the Darnytskiy district, military administration officials said on Telegram early on May 28.
Russia has intensified missile and drone strikes on Ukraine after a lull of nearly two months, targeting military facilities and supplies with waves of attacks several times a week.
Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied equipment, Ukrainian air defenses have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks -- both drones and aircraft missiles.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed his country's air-defense forces and rescue services, calling them "heroes."
"You look up to destroy enemy missiles, aircraft, helicopters, and drones. Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved.... You are heroes!" Zelensky said on May 28, also thanking rescuers.
Drone strikes and artillery fire were also reported from other parts of Ukraine, including the northeastern province of Sumy on the border with Russia and the town of Nikopol in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region.
In the northeastern Kharkiv Province, regional authorities said two people were killed in two separate shelling attacks on May 28.
Also on May 28, the death toll from a missile attack two days earlier on the city of Dnipro, the provincial capital of Dnipropetrovsk, rose to four.
Dnipropetrovsk Governor Serhiy Lysak said three people who were considered missing were confirmed dead. At least 32 people, including two children, were wounded in the May 26 attack.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP
Tens Of Thousands Take To The Streets Of Belgrade To Protest Mass Shootings, Government Response
Tens of thousands of Serbian citizens took to the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 27 to protest against the government’s response to two mass shootings earlier in the month that killed 18. Protesters called on President Aleksandar Vucic, Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic, and Aleksandar Vulin, the director of Serbia's security agency, to resign. Many opponents blame Vucic for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the mass shootings. The demonstration was the fourth such protest in recent weeks. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
Ukraine Claims Russia Plotting 'Provocation' At Nuclear Plant, Offers No Evidence
Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed, without offering evidence, that Russia is plotting a "large-scale provocation" at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the southeast of the country with the aim of disrupting a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. A statement released on May 26 by the intelligence directorate of Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed that Russian forces would strike the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give the Russian forces the respite they need to regroup ahead of the counteroffensive. To read the original story by AP, click here.
- By Current Time
Russian Orthodox Church Fires Archpriest For 'Obstruction' Of Trinity Icon Transfer
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on May 27 fired archpriest Leonid Kalinin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s expert council on church art, architecture, and restoration for "obstructing" the transfer of the historic 15th-century Trinity icon to the church from a museum in Moscow. Kalinin was also banned from the priesthood, according to a statement published by the Russian Orthodox Church. "I apparently made a mistake," Kalinin was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency, adding that he accepted the decision "calmly." To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Germany Says Russia Set To Expel German Diplomats, Teachers, Cultural Staff
Russia will start expelling German diplomats, teachers and employees of German cultural institutions next month, the German Foreign Office said on May 27 -- a move that will further enhance tensions between the two countries that have already had very fraught ties since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year. The German Foreign Ministry sharply criticized Russia’s move, calling the upcoming expulsions a "unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision." To read the original story by AP, click here.
Tehran Police Issue Warning As Drivers Cover Up License Plates
Police in Tehran issued a stern warning to road users amid an increase in the number of people covering up the license plates of mopeds with face masks, plastic covers, and badges. It is a criminal offense to cover a registration that can carry a penalty of six months to a year in prison, according to a senior police officer in Tehran on May 27, state news agency IRNA reported. Locals in Tehran say people are covering up their license plates for several reasons. As ever, road users are keen to avoid fines for infractions. In addition, many women who ride small mopeds are no longer wearing head scarves, as in the past, in a continued protest at the requirement. To avoid fines now that compliance is being monitored through CCTV, many cover their license plates.
Three Killed In Border Clashes Between Iranian Forces And The Taliban
Two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter were killed after the two sides exchange gunfire on the Islamic republic's border with Afghanistan.
The incident on May 27 came amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.
Both sides accused each other of starting the shooting.
The official government news agency IRNA quoted Brigadier General Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of the national police as saying that a border outpost in southeastern Iran had come under "heavy attack" by the Taliban, prompting a "a decisive and courageous counteraction" from Iranian border guards.
"The Taliban forces initiated the assault in contravention of international law and principles of good neighborliness," Rezai said.
IRNA said that following the border skirmishes, Brigadier General Ahmadreza Radan, chief commander of the national police, issued a directive to the border guards, asking them to "defend the borders bravely and decisively and not allow any trespassing or encroachment."
A Taliban spokesman said two people were killed in the clashes while accusing Iranian forces of shooting first.
"Today, in Nimroz Province, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counter-reaction," a spokesman for the Taliban-run Interior Ministry, Abdul Nafi Takor, said in a statement. "During the battle, one person was killed on each side and many were injured."
"The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate does not want to fight with its neighbors," Takor added.
Taliban Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi confirmed the clashes in the Kang district of Nimroz Province while calling for "dialogue and negotiations."
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue and negotiation to be a reasonable way for any problem. Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties," Khowarazmi said.
Iranian news agencies confirmed the death of two Iranian border guards. IRNA said two civilians had been injured in the incident. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that a main border crossing with Afghanistan had been closed following the exchange of fire.
Earlier, the hard-line Fars news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said the clashes ended after "a short time." Fars said the two sides had convened a meeting to investigate the cause of "the tensions."
It wasn't clear what provoked the incident.
HalVash, a Baluch rights group, posted a video and photos that it said were from the area where Iranian forces and the Taliban engaged in "heavy" clashes and exchange of fire.
RFE/RL could not independently verify the footage.
The clashes follow a warning by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi who on May 18 called the de facto Taliban regime in Afghanistan not to violate Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River.
According to the 1973 agreement, Afghanistan is obligated to provide Iran with 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River. Iran has accused Afghanistan of not complying with the accord, an allegation that Kabul rejects. Disputes over the distribution of cross-border water supplies have plagued relations between the two neighbors for decades.
Taliban officials have repeatedly claimed that due to low water levels, even if they opened the Kajaki Dam, nothing would reach Iran.
Water from the 1,150-kilometer (690-mile) Helmand River, Afghanistan’s longest, feeds the Hamun Lake in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province. The region relies heavily on the lake, and officials say it has suffered major issues because of a persistent lack of water.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
At Least Nine People Killed In Avalanche In Northern Pakistan
At least nine people were killed in an avalanche that occurred in northern Pakistan close to the border with China, officials said on May 27. The avalanche occurred early in the morning in the Astore district of the Gilgit-Baltistan region and involved a family from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, officials said. Khalid Khurshid, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan ordered a search-and-rescue mission to go to the scene as soon as possible despite the bad weather. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.
Ukraine Asks Germany To Provide Taurus Long-Range Missiles
Ukraine has asked Germany to supply it with Taurus cruise missiles, an air-launched weapon with a range of some 500 kilometers, a spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry in Berlin said on May 27. Germany received the request several days ago, the spokeswoman said, confirming a report by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She declined to provide further details or say how likely it was that Germany would supply the missiles to Ukraine. Britain earlier in May became the first country to publicly provide Kyiv with Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Suicide Attack Wounds 23 Pakistani Troops In Tribal Area, Officials Say
A suicide attacker slammed his explosives-laden motorcycle into a convoy of military vehicles in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region that borders Afghanistan on June 27, wounding 23 troops, security officials told Radio Mashaal on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. "The military convoy was traveling from Dera Ismail Khan to South Waziristan tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province," one security official said. The wounded have been shifted to the military hospital in Dera Ismail where two of them are in critical condition. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.
NATO Urges Kosovo To 'Immediately De-escalate' Tensions After Police Clash With Protesters In Serb-Majority North
NATO on May 27 called on Kosovar authorities to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions in the Serb-majority northern towns after security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds in three towns and enter municipal buildings in support of recently elected ethnic Albanian mayors.
The situation was calm on May 27, RFE/RL correspondents reported, a day after the unrest shook Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok -- similarly sized communities of 16,000 to 18,000 people where the ethnic Albanian mayors sought to enter municipal buildings and take office amid opposition from Serb-majority protesters. There was heavy police presence in the area, the correspondents reported.
"We urge the Institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately & call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu wrote on Twitter on May 27.
"NATO-[led] KFOR remains vigilant & will ensure a safe & secure environment," Lungescu added referring to the KFOR protection force that was deployed in Kosovo in 1999 after the NATO alliance's bombing forced the Serbian Army out of the territory. KFOR comprises nearly 3,800 soldiers.
Five police officers were injured in Zvecan, authorities said, adding that at least four vehicles had been damaged. There were no immediate reports of possible injuries among protesters who had gathered at the town's main municipal building.
In a move that threatened to further fan tensions, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on May 27 announced that his country's military remained on high alert after he had ordered troops to deploy closer to the border with Kosovo late on May 26.
The decision to keep troops on high alert was made at a meeting of Serbia's National Security Council in Belgrade on May 27, the Serbian presidency said, adding that the move was necessary after the "brutal use of force by [Kosovar Prime Minister] Albin Kurti against the Serbian people in Kosovo."
The unrest prompted the United States and other Western allies to take an unusually harsh line against Kosovar authorities for the aggressive police action after previously assailing the government's decision to hold elections on April 23 following a boycott announced by the main Serb party.
The so-called QUINT states -- United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Britain -- had previously expressed concerns about the situation in northern Kosovo, saying the April elections did not constitute a lasting political solution for the municipalities involved due to the boycott.
In a joint statement on May 26, the group condemned the Kosovar authorities’ use of force and also expressed concerns about "Serbia's decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces at the border with Kosovo and call all parties for maximum restraint, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 26 said Kosovo’s government took the action to force access to municipal buildings against U.S. advice.
“We strongly condemn the actions by the Government of Kosovo that are escalating tensions in the north and increasing instability. We call on Prime Minister [Albin Kurti] to immediately halt these violent measures and refocus on the EU-facilitated Dialogue,” he wrote on Twitter.
Blinken urged all sides in the dispute to "refrain from any further actions that will inflame tensions and promote conflict."
The European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement that the “European Union condemns in the strongest terms the clashes between Kosovo police and protesters in northern Kosovo, initiated by the attempt of newly elected mayors to enter municipal buildings.
"Everyone must take steps to reduce the tense situation and immediately restore calm. The EU will not accept any further unilateral or provocative moves and peacekeeping and security on the ground should be a priority," the statement added.
The ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in on May 25 to lead majority Serb municipalities, replacing Serb mayors who had resigned last November to protest a cross-border dispute over vehicle registrations.
The subsequent election to replace the mayors was boycotted by the dominant ethnic Serb party, Srpska Lista (Serbian List), which enjoys the support of neighboring Serbia's government -- paving the way for ethnic Albanian candidates to win with tiny vote totals.
A fourth mayor was sworn in last week -- in North Mitrovica -- in a process that Vucic condemned as an "occupation" of areas of the former Serbian province. Vucic has vowed never to recognize Kosovar independence.
The Serb minority accounts for 5 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population, which is 90 percent Albanian. But they hold majorities in regions near the Serbian border.
With reporting by Reuters
Governor Says Oil Pipeline Building Damaged In Drone Attack In Russia's Pskov Region
At least one administrative building of an oil pipeline in Russia's Pskov region was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones were coming from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties. According to Baza telegram channel, two kamikaze drones attacked the Transneft oil pumping station. Baza also reported that drones attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine, adding that there were no casualties. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.
Iranian Students Coming Under Increased Pressure Over Hijab Rules
Iranian students are coming under increased pressure and disciplinary measures as authorities try to stamp out dissent over the mandatory hijab law.
The Union Council of Iranian Students says students, who have been at the forefront of massive anti-government protests over the hijab law, are being threatened via text messages and through "motorcycle patrols for hijab warnings" to comply with the rule.
It pointed to the recent summoning of students at the University of Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, where they were repeatedly threatened with suspensions and academic bans by university officials, as an example of how authorities were trying to force the students to abandon their opposition to the hijab law.
The council added that university authorities have set up a motorcycle security patrol tasked with confronting students who don't comply with the compulsory hijab, while noting the security presence at the university has substantially increased and closed gates to control the flow of students on campus as they target students based on their clothing.
Anger over the hijab rule, which mandates women cover their heads while in public, erupted in September 2022 when a young woman in Tehran died while in police custody for an alleged hijab violation. Since then, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to demand more freedoms and women's rights.
Numerous protests have been held at universities, particularly in Tehran, where many students have refused to attend classes. Protesting students have chanted "Woman, life, freedom!" and "Death to the dictator!" at the rallies. Some female students have removed and burned their head scarves.
At Noshirvani University in the northern Iranian city of Babol, officials have reportedly formed committees to enforce the mandatory hijab requirement.
The United Students channel uncovered the formation of the Guidance Committee at the university, saying its job is to confront students based on their attire. If students refuse to observe the compulsory hijab, this committee has the authority to refer them to the university's disciplinary committee.
Security forces at the school are allegedly bursting into classes while professors are teaching to issue hijab warnings.
Several other universities, including Al-Zahra University, Beheshti University, and Azad University have reported similar occurances.
Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.
According to the Committee for the Follow-Up of the Situation of Detainees, over 720 students from across 100 universities in the country have been arrested since the nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini during her arrest.
Many of these detained students have reportedly faced severe penalties, including imprisonment, suspension from education, exile, and monetary fines.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Serbia's President Vucic Steps Down As Head Of Ruling Party
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stepped down as leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) at a party congress on May 27, saying a new approach was needed to unite the country, but said he would remain head of state. The move came a day after tens of thousands of people from across Serbia and from neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia rallied in the center of Belgrade in a show of support for Vucic following anti-government protests over two mass shootings that killed 18 people earlier this month. Another anti-government protest was scheduled for later on May 27. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.
Wagner Mercenaries Reportedly Start Withdrawal From Bakhmut As Russia Launches Fresh Attacks, Air Strikes
Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner Group have reportedly begun relocating from some of their positions in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of the war in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk, according to senior Ukrainian officials and British intelligence.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the mercenary group that has spearheaded the attack on Bakhmut, on May 25 said his fighters were starting to leave the city and would be replaced by regular Russian troops.
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Prigozhin claimed his fighters had captured Bakhmut, an assertion rejected by Kyiv officials who said Ukrainian forces still control parts of the devastated city.
At the same time, the Ukrainian side confirmed "certain rotational movements" of Russian forces in Bakhmut.
"Indeed, they are replacing (forces), but how massively, how much he (Prigozhin) will really withdraw the units of this criminal group -- it will take a little time to verify," Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told state television on May 27.
Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a statement on Telegram that Russian forces were continuing to attack Bakhmut but that overall offensive activity had decreased.
"Yesterday and today there have not been any active battles -- neither in the city nor on the flanks," she said on May 27, adding that Moscow's troops were instead shelling the outskirts and approaches to Bakhmut.
"The decrease in the enemy's offensive activity is due to the fact that troops are being replaced and regrouped," Maliar said. "The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities."
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, also told the BBC in an interview published on May 27 that Wagner mercenaries were leaving Bakhmut, but cautioned that they were "regrouping to another three locations" and "it doesn't mean that they will stop fighting with us."
British military intelligence said in its daily report on May 27 that Wagner fighters "have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions" in and around Bakhmut.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on May 27 that fighting has continued in and around Bakhmut, as Russia pounded the devastated city and its surroundings with air strikes.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram on May 27 that Russian forces have continued attacking but "overall offensive activity has decreased."
WATCH: Civilians caught near the front line in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya region continue to be evacuated. Serhiy Siryak and his wife, Tamara, from the town of Stepnohirsk, finally decided to leave when their house was destroyed by Russian shelling.
Malyar said Ukrainian troops "firmly hold" the heights north and south of Bakhmut.
Earlier, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its daily report on May 27 that Ukrainian forces repelled 25 Russian assaults on their positions in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.
Two people were killed and five others were wounded by Russian shelling in Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on May 27. One person was killed in Chasiv Yar district and one in Vasyukivka, Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.
Fighting has been under way also around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, where Russian forces are attempting to consolidate their tactical position, the Ukrainian military said.
A missile strike also hit a village in the eastern Kharkiv region overnight, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said on May 27, adding that the missile caused some material damage but no victims.
Meanwhile, authorities in Russian-occupied Berdyansk, in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhya region, reported several explosions on the outskirts of the city that they blamed on Ukrainian drones. The information could not be independently verified.
Russian officials also reported drone attacks on oil installations in two regions.
In Pskov, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus, at least one administrative building of an oil pipeline was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones came from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties.
In the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, the local council reported that a drone attacked a station that serves the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline near Erokhino, some 500 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Druzhba is one of the world's longest and densest networks of oil pipelines.
According to the Baza telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services, drones also attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine.
In the Kursk region, the local governor said shelling from Ukraine killed a construction worker near the Ukrainian border.
None of the reported attacks inside Russia could be independently verified.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters
Tens Of Thousands Gather For Pro-Government Rallies In Serbian Capital
Tens of thousands of supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) took the streets of the capital, Belgrade, on May 26 in support of President Aleksandar Vucic. The president has faced increasing pressure from opponents angered by what they see as a lack of response to two mass shootings, including one at a school, earlier in the month. Vucic has vowed to step up school security and urged citizens to hand over their weapons to police. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
Pakistan's Imran Khan Calls For Immediate Talks Amid Standoff With Military
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 26 appealed for immediate talks with state officials, as pressure increased on him amid a crackdown on his top aides and supporters that has seen thousands arrested, as well as many leaving his party.
han has been embroiled in a tussle with the military since he was removed from power last year in a parliamentary vote that he says was orchestrated by the country's top generals. The military denies this.
The standoff intensified when earlier this month Khan's supporters were involved in violent protests following his brief arrest on May 9.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s government on May 26 said 17 more Khan supporters would be tried in military courts over recent anti-government violence, bringing the overall number of followers of the former prime minister facing military tribunals so far to 33.
Polish Interior Minister Vows Sanctions on Belarus After Court Upholds Eight-Year Sentence On Journalist
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on May 26 said he will introduce new sanctions on representatives of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime after Belarus’s Supreme Court upheld an eight-year prison term handed to Andrzej Poczobut, a noted journalist and leader of the Polish-Belarusian community. Kaminski called the ruling against the 50-year-old Poczobut “draconian” and said the new sanctions will be announced on May 29. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here.
Interview: The 'War Of Clans For Putin's Throne Has Begun'2
Wagner Chief Prigozhin Says Russia's Plan To 'Demilitarize' Ukraine Has Failed3
A Quick Ukrainian Defeat Of Russia Lessens Chances Of 'Black Swan Event,' Argues Former Military Adviser To Ukraine4
'We're Moving Forward': Ukrainian Artillery Still Targeting Russian Positions Near Bakhmut5
Consider The Porcupine: Western Officials Struggle To Find A New Security Model For Ukraine6
Three Russian Regions Attacked By Ukrainian Forces, Governors Say7
Russian Rights Defender Khamroyev Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison8
Russia Cancels Air Show For The First Time In Decades9
Air Defense: Ukraine Parries As Russia Seeks To Slow Counteroffensive With New Surge Of Attacks10
Along Ukraine's Border, Fear, Suspicion, Exhaustion Seep Into A Russian Region