Protesters Target Government Buildings In Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan Region, Authorities Say

The flags of Uzbekistan (right) and Karakalpakstan (file photo)

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has abruptly scrapped plans to abolish the country’s Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic’s right to secede following rare mass protests in the restive region, according to his office.

Mirziyoev’s office on July 2 said the president made the remarks during a visit to Karakalpakstan, declaring that changes to Karakalpakstan’s status must be dropped from a proposed constitutional reform plan.

The decision, if confirmed, would mark an apparent backing down by the Uzbek government, which on June 27 had proposed constitutional changes that included eliminating mention of Karakalpakstan’s long-standing right to seek independence from Uzbekistan.

It is not clear if the move would satisfy the protesters. Hours after Mirziyoev’s announcement, presidential press secretary Sherzod Asadov wrote on Telegram that Uzbekistan was imposing a one-month state of emergency in the region, running to August 2.

According to the draft amendments initiated last month by Mirziyoev, Karakalpakstan would retain its autonomy, but a constitutional clause giving it the right to secede on the basis of a referendum among its roughly 2 million inhabitants would be taken out.

Other constitutional reforms proposed would allow Mirziyoev to run for two more terms in office.

The planned changes sparked street protests in Karakalpakstan’s capital, Nukus, and other regional cities.

Prior to Mirziyoev’s visit to Nukus, regional authorities said protesters “attempted to seize government bodies” after mass demonstrations broke out in the region’s capital over the planned constitutional changes.

Authorities said unnamed “organizers of the riots” had gathered citizens on the square near the complex of administrative buildings in Nukus, “made an attempt to seize these state institutions, and thus split society, and to destabilize the sociopolitical situation in Uzbekistan.”

The statement added that security forces “stopped the actions of the instigators,” who were detained.

Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry claimed that the protests were “a result of misunderstanding the [proposed] constitutional reforms.”

Obtaining accurate information from Karakalpakstan is difficult because of limited or disrupted Internet and telephone service.

Local media had cited authorities as saying that the amendments curtailing the region’s right to seek independence were approved by lawmakers in Karakalpakstan as well as in Tashkent due to “numerous demands to define Karakalpakstan as indivisible part of Uzbekistan.”

Karakalpaks are a Turkic-speaking people in Central Asia. Their region used to be an autonomous area within Kazakhstan until 1930. Before becoming part of Uzbekistan in 1936, the region was the Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

The current Uzbek Constitution describes Karakalpakstan, located in northwestern Uzbekistan, as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.

Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months on the new version of the constitution, which would eliminate Karakalpakstan’s right to secede.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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U.S. President Joe Biden avoided appearing to embrace Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, implicated by U.S. intelligence in the brutal 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but a photo of Biden and the crown prince fist bumping circulated worldwide.

U.S. President Joe Biden wrapped up his Middle East trip vowing to remain engaged in the region and to help countries there resist the drives for influence by Iran, Russia, and China.

Iran was among the main targets of Biden’s criticism as he left Saudi Arabia on July 16 for the flight back to Washington.

“Let me say clearly that the United States is going to remain an active engaged partner in the Middle East,” Biden said at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran,” Biden said.

Biden said the United States wants to help step up protection of international shipping in the Middle East, seen as a clear reference to Iran.

“The United States will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize freedom of navigation through the Middle East,” he said.

He also restated that Washington will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, echoing comments he made in Israel at the start of his first Middle East trip since taking office.

Sunni-Muslim majority Saudi Arabia is a bitter rival of Shi’ite-led Iran, both of home are battling for influence in the region.

Among the leading items of Biden’s agenda on his stop in Saudi Arabia was to seek a commitment by Riyadh and members of OPEC and OPEC+ to boost output at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had disrupted supplies, raised prices, and led to global concerns of a new energy crisis.

Saudi Arabia said it is willing to increase its daily oil production capacity by 1 million barrels, though the country’s leaders said that does not necessarily mean more actual oil production.

The vow to hike capacity came on July 16 from Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman following his meetings with Biden.

The prince said Saudi Arabia would raise its production capacity to 13 million barrels a day by 2027 from 12 million now and “after that the kingdom will not have any more capability to increase production.”

Biden avoided appearing to embrace the crown prince implicated by U.S. intelligence in the brutal 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but a photo of Biden and the crown prince fist bumping circulated worldwide.

Saudi authorities deny charges that the crown prince was involved in or ordered the murder.

Biden said he confronted the prince over the killing, but that he remained defiant, telling Biden the United States had also made mistakes.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, and the BBC

A rally in support the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization in Brussels. (file photo)

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has imposed sanctions on 61 additional U.S. citizens, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for backing an exiled Iranian dissident group.

The ministry on July 16 said former President Donald Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and former White House national-security adviser John Bolton had also been sanctioned for voicing support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), a political-militant group that has advocated for the overthrow of Iran’s clerical regime.

The sanctions — issued previously against dozens of Americans for various reasons — would allow Iranian authorities to seize any assets they hold in Iran.

The likely absence of such assets makes the action mainly symbolic.

Giuliani, Pompeo, and Bolton have been reported to have participated in MKO events and voiced support for the group.

The list also included several members of the U.S. Congress, both Democrats and Republicans.

Based on reporting by Reuters

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference in Bali.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Group of 20 finance chiefs had productive talks in Indonesia about a proposal to cap the prices countries would pay for Russian oil.

However, the official G20 finance ministers summit ended on July 16 without a final communique as differences on how to characterize and respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prevented unanimity within the group.

Instead of a formal communique, a 14-paragraph statement would be issued by Indonesia, according to Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, the host of the formal event.

She said there was consensus on most of the document but that two paragraphs would focus on members’ differences regarding the war’s impacts and the next steps to take.

Yellen, meanwhile, said progress was made on a potential cap on Russian oil prices in talks on the sidelines of the summit.

“On energy costs, I had productive bilateral meetings with over a half-dozen of my counterparts where we discussed the merits of a price cap and how it can help us achieve our goals of denying [Russian President Vladimir] Putin revenue for his war machine, while dampening energy costs,” Yellen told reporters.

A price cap would be “our most powerful tools to address the high prices people are facing in America and around the world,” she said.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov attended the talks in person. A week earlier, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walked out of a G20 meeting over Western criticism of the invasion.

Maksimov was in the room as Western officials expressed their condemnation, a source at the event told AFP.

Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko participated virtually in the meeting.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

The July 17, 2014, tragedy killed all 298 passengers and crew from 10 nations aboard MH17 and prompted a tightening of Western resolve to punish Moscow and support Kyiv’s defense against an annexation and creeping threat from Russia.

The EU’s top diplomat has issued a statement expressing sympathy ahead of the day nearly eight years ago that local separatists working with a missile system deployed by Russian intelligence officials are accused of having shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

“The European Union reiterates its full support for all efforts to establish the truth, achieving justice for the 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 and their next of kin and holding those responsible to account, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2166,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in the statement.

The July 17, 2014, tragedy killed all 298 passengers and crew from 10 nations aboard MH17 and prompted a tightening of Western resolve to punish Moscow and support Kyiv’s defense against an annexation and creeping threat from Russia.

A low-grade conflict continued until President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops to invade Ukraine in late February.

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a painful reminder of what happened eight years ago to the 298 people on board Flight MH17 and it strengthens the need to establish accountability,” Borrell said.

Prosecutors in the Netherlands have requested life sentences for four Russian and Ukrainian men on charges connected to the downing of the jet with a Russian-made Buk missile.

Russian suspect Oleg Pulatov, a former officer of the Russian Army, in 2014 headed a unit of the Main Intelligence Directorate in a region of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Pulatov was involved in the transport and protection of a Buk antiaircraft missile system that investigators say fired the missile that brought down the passenger jet. The evidence includes intercepts of telephone conversations of Russian-backed separatists, according to prosecutors.

Pulatov pleaded not guilty in June in a trial of all four in absentia in which a verdict isn’t expected until at least November.

The other three defendants are Russians Sergei Dubinsky and Igor Girkin and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

Moscow has denied involvement and mostly floated improbable or refutable alternative scenarios for the tragedy.

In this image released on July 15 by the Iranian Army, a drone is launched from an Iranian warship during a drill in the Indian Ocean.

The White House has released what it says is intelligence showing that Russian officials have recently visited an airfield in Iran to see unmanned, weaponized drones it wants to acquire to use in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has tightened relations with Tehran of late and is scheduled to visit Iran this week to meet with the Iranian and Turkish presidents.

Tehran has recently dismissed suggestions it is ready to provide such weapons-carrying drones to Russia.

White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the administration has “information that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred unmanned UAVs,” or unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Biden administration said Iranian officials displayed the drones to Russian officials at Kashan Airfield, in central Iran, on June 8 and July 15.

The White House released satellite imagery purporting to show Iranian Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones in flight and on show at the airfield with a Russian transport plane nearby.

“This suggests ongoing Russian interest in acquiring Iranian attack-capable UAVs,” Sullivan said.

Drones have played an important role in the 4-month-old conflict in Ukraine, which has killed tens of thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee as ground battles and long-distance bombardments by Russian forces continue.

The United States and its NATO allies have provided or earmarked billions in weapons supplies to help Ukraine defend itself since the all-out invasion began in February, following eight years of lower-scale conflict between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists.

Washington has previously accused Tehran of readying for a supply of drones to Russia “on an expedited timeline.”

On July 15, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, by phone that reports of Iranian drones bound for Russia are “baseless.”

Amir-Abdollahian called the reports politically motivated to coincide with U.S. President Joe Biden’s current Middle East tour.

“We oppose any move that could lead to continuation and intensifying conflicts,” he said.

Biden is currently on a Middle East tour that includes efforts to shore up regional responses to the perceived threat from Iran and Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Biden and other world powers’ efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have largely stalemated, undermined in part by Moscow’s insistence on new conditions, exacerbating already antagonistic relations between Tehran and Washington.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Viktoriya Tkachuk of Ukraine poses for a teammate with a flag signed by the Ukrainian rock band The Hardkiss as she trains before the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, on July 14.

International anti-doping authorities have granted special exemptions for seven Ukrainians to allow them to compete in the 2022 World Athletics Championships (WCH 22) now under way in the U.S. state of Oregon.

The decision acknowledges complications stemming from Russia’s invasion of their homeland.

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced on July 15 that none of the athletes from Ukraine or five of the other six countries deemed high-risk for doping is being excluded.

Belarus is the exception, as its athletes are ineligible due to that country’s involvement and support for Russian forces that invaded neighbor Ukraine in February.

“Thanks to significant improvements in most of their domestic testing programs, those countries categorized as being the highest doping risk to the sport do not have any athletes declared not eligible for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 for failing to meet minimum testing requirements as set out under the World Athletics Anti-Doping Rules,” the AIU, a governance body, said in a statement.

It contrasted that with the 20 athletes from so-called “Category A” national federations officials consider at highest risk for doping in 2022 who were prevented from competing at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year.

The Category A countries are: Belarus, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and Ukraine, the latter over difficulties stemming from the conflict.

Many Ukrainian athletes who compete on an international level have been training abroad for months.

A main requirement for the current athletics championships involved at least three surprise, out-of-competition doping tests.

The AIU said the Ukrainians couldn’t meet that standard but an exception was appropriate because of the war and “extraordinary efforts from the Ukrainian NADO and federation to arrange testing.”

With reporting by AP

Film producer Armen Grigorian (center) is seen in the courtroom shortly before he collapsed to the floor and died.

An Armenian film producer collapsed and died in a Yerevan courtroom where he was facing charges of inciting hatred, raising questions about why authorities ignored defense warnings about the 57-year-old’s flagging health.

Video shared by the news.am website showed Armen Grigorian slump suddenly in his chair as his lawyers were pleading his case on July 15, and he reportedly died before medics arrived.

The cause of death was not initially disclosed.

Grigorian was known among post-Soviet filmmakers in the Caucasus for productions exploring regret and redemption, like 2007’s I’m Staying; the fateful drama of 2015’s An Interrupted Flight; as well as crime and comedic films, including Ticket To Vegas.

His lawyer was seeking a dismissal of the case and said there was no reason for Grigorian to even be in court following his arrest in May.

He was facing accusations of inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred under Article 226 of the Criminal Code, according to news.am.

Ombudsman Kristina Grigorian has demanded an explanation from the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Justice Ministry regarding Grigorian’s condition, his treatment, and the circumstances around his death.

“It is extremely unacceptable and alarming that in the conditions of preliminary arrest in relation to a person in the place of his detention, the right of a person to health protection is not guaranteed, health problems are not identified and eliminated properly, which leads to such tragic consequences,” she said.

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski looks back during the debate in parliament on July 16. He urged lawmakers to accept an imperfect deal that would lead to “ultimately a better future.”

SKOPJE — Lawmakers in North Macedonia on July 16 backed a French proposal after three days of debate to remove a Bulgarian veto on EU membership talks for the Balkan nation.

The compromise envisages an effort to amend the Macedonian Constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority but leaves other previous sticking points to be worked out between Skopje and Sofia. It reportedly leaves open Bulgarian recognition of the Macedonian language.

It passed with 68 votes in the 120-seat National Assembly after opposition lawmakers walked out following weeks of accusations by some that the deal amounts to a national cultural betrayal.

Hours later, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski said the country will begin EU accession talks on July 19.

“Finally, after 17 years, we begin the accession negotiation process,” he said on Twitter. “From today onwards, we are moving forward with an accelerated step to join the European family in which our Macedonian language will be heard very soon and officially.”

Just four years after Macedonians agreed to a name change to mollify neighbor Greece and two years after Bulgaria invoked its veto on EU talks, the compromise could usher in rapid progress to launch negotiations within a formal framework for Macedonian membership to the bloc.

The European Union’s French Presidency last month laid out mutual concessions to resolve differences over shared national language and culture between Macedonians and Bulgarians.

Sofia has been vetoing a framework for North Macedonia’s accession for the past two years but has endorsed the French deal.

Thousands of Macedonians protested in Skopje this week, and police were deployed to seal off the parliament from protesters during the first two days of debate.

Opposition deputies inside the parliament chamber on July 14 blew horns as Kovachevski urged them to accept an imperfect deal that would lead to “ultimately a better future.”

During the final day of debate and passage, about 100 protesters were outside the parliament clamoring for rejection of the French proposal.

On Twitter, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated North Macedonia on the vote and said it “now paves the way for opening the accession negotiations rapidly.”

A supporter of VMRO-DPMNE, North Macedonia’s biggest opposition party, throws an egg on the parliament building during a rally in Skopje on July 14.

“It was a historic opportunity. And you seized it. A big step on your path towards a European future. Your future,” she wrote.

The United States said it welcomed the decision by North Macedonia’s parliament.

“We recognize the difficult tradeoffs considered in this compromise, which acknowledges and respects North Macedonia’s cultural identity and the Macedonian language,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“This decision comes at a critical moment for North Macedonia, the Western Balkans, and Europe. A European Union that includes all of the Western Balkans, including Albania and North Macedonia, will be stronger and more prosperous. Now is the time to build momentum and work on next steps.”

North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years, but its approval was first blocked by Greece over a name dispute resolved in 2018 and now by Bulgaria, both members of the bloc.

Opponents of the compromise fear it will inflict far-reaching damage on national identity and culture and fails to guard against future Bulgarian objections on the path to EU membership anyway.

“With this agreement, Macedonia will be a hostage to Bulgaria as it would exercise a veto based on whatever condition we fail to fulfill [in EU accession process],” Petar Risteski, an opposition VMRO-DPMNE lawmaker warned, according to Reuters. “Therefore have courage and take the side of the truth, justice, and the Macedonian people.”

Rock-throwing and other unrest erupted after reports that Paris floated the compromise late last month.

The Bulgarian-Macedonian dispute has underscored regional resentments and risks a further erosion of Balkan faith in the European Union.

Von der Leyen had traveled to Skopje to urge Macedonia’s parliament to green light the deal before debate began on July 14, saying, “We want you in the EU.”

The Bulgarian parliament lifted its veto last month in anticipation of approval in Skopje, also causing unrest in that country and contributing to a no-confidence vote that toppled Kiril Petkov’s government.

Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said recently that furthering North Macedonia’s and Albania’s progress toward EU membership are especially important to the continent in the context of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Gold bars at Russia’s Gulidov Krasnoyarsk Nonferrous Metals Plant in Krastsvetmet.

The European Union has targeted Russian gold exports in a seventh package of sanctions proposed by the European Commission on July 15.

The commission’s proposal slaps a ban on Russia’s gold exports into the bloc as part of efforts to align EU sanctions with the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations and other international partners.

The G7 in June announced a ban on imports of Russian gold, a move aimed at Russian oligarchs and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine. The British government said at the time that exports of Russian gold last year totaled more than $15 billion.

Six previous rounds of EU sanctions have targeted Russia’s economy, financial system, central bank, top government officials, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. The last one passed in June imposed a ban on most Russian oil imports.

The new measures come as “Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine continues unabated,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a statement.

“We are proposing today to tighten our hard-hitting EU sanctions against the Kremlin, enforce them more effectively, and extend them until January 2023. Moscow must continue to pay a high price for its aggression,” she added.

Maros Sefcovic, deputy head of the European Commission, said ahead of a meeting of European affairs ministers held by the Czech Presidency of the EU in Prague that the EU would also seek to “close all exit routes for those wanting to bypass the sanctions” in the proposed update.

“It is, of course, a very complex mechanism, so we need to not only set up but also check, monitor, and close the places that would create platforms for an exit in some way,” he said.

He waved aside any thoughts of fatigue among EU members helping Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on February 24 under Putin’s orders.

“Even though it’s really difficult, we will continue because it’s the Ukrainians fighting for their freedom who are in the most difficult situation,” Sefcovic said.

The commission also stressed that the measures “do not target in any way the trade in agricultural products between third countries and Russia.”

The U.S. Treasury Department on July 14 issued a fact sheet “to further clarify” that the United States has not imposed sanctions on agricultural commodities, including fertilizer, agricultural equipment, or medicine relating to Russia.

The proposed EU sanctions package strengthens the “effectiveness of the EU’s six wide-ranging and unprecedented packages of sanctions against Russia,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.

Borrell said he would present new individuals to be listed for EU sanctions that freeze any assets they hold in the EU and ban travel in the 27-member union.

The commission’s proposals will be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on July 18. EU governments must still sign off on the measures.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna on July 14 urged the EU to keep hitting Russia with new sanctions.

“We hope the next, seventh package of sanctions will have a strong restrictive potential and will be taken without further delay and as soon as possible,” said Stefanishyna.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters

CIA Director William Burns at a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Yerevan on July 15.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on July 15 received U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns, Pashinian’s press office said.

The two “discussed issues related to international and regional security and the fight against terrorism. Reference was made to processes taking place in the South Caucasus region,” the brief statement said.

While in Yerevan, Burns also met with the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, Armen Grigorian, whose office said the two discussed issues related to the further development of U.S.- Armenia bilateral relations.

Grigorian outlined for the CIA director the security environment in the region, existing challenges, and Armenia’s approach to establishing peace in the region, a statement from Grigorian’s office said.

“The sides talked about Armenia-Azerbaijan and Armenia-Turkey negotiation processes,” the statement said.

Official Armenian bodies and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan would not comment on media reports about Burns’ visit to Yerevan.

Burns, 66, served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2005-08. He visited Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2011 in his capacity as U.S. deputy secretary of state.

During that trip, he urged a greater “sense of urgency” for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that “the status quo is not sustainable.”

Local residents search for the documents of their injured friend in the debris of a destroyed apartment house after Russian shelling in a residential area in Chuhuiv, near Kharkiv, on July 16.

Ukrainian authorities reported that Russian missile strikes and shelling had killed at least 16 civilians in cities throughout the country after the Kremlin’s military leaders said they had ordered troops to “further intensify” their actions in all areas.

Live Briefing: Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL’s Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia’s ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, Western military aid, worldwide reaction, and the plight of civilians and refugees. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.

Residents of Kyiv sought cover on July 16 as air-raid sirens blared across the Ukrainian capital, while Ukraine’s most senior atomic official accused Russian troops occupying Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhya of using it to shell nearby areas and store advanced weapons.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, but they come amid a flurry of deadly Russian strikes on civilian sites, including an attack in the historic city of Vinnytsya on July 15 that killed 24 people.

Russia claimed the strike targeted officers’ housing, but Ukrainian and U.S. officials rejected that assertion and said the attacks hit civilian sites. At least 39 people remained missing following the strike.

After failing to take Kyiv in the early days of the war, Russia has turned its main focus on taking all of the Donbas region — consisting of the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

But fresh attacks have been reported as well in the north and south of Ukraine. The northeast city of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest, has been blasted by heavy bombardments in recent days. Ukrainian officials said the Kremlin’s next move could be a full-scale attack on the city of 1.45 million people.

Serhiy Bolvinov, deputy head of the Kharkiv regional police, said Russian rockets blasted a two-story apartment block and other buildings.

“Four Russian rockets, presumably fired from around [the Russian city of] Belgorod at night, at about 3:30 a.m., hit a residential building, a school, and administrative buildings,” Bolvinov wrote on Facebook.

“The bodies of three people were found under the rubble. Three more were injured. The victims are civilians,” Bolvinov added.

On July 16, the Russian Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave “instructions to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas, in order to exclude the possibility of the Kyiv regime launching massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and residents of settlements in Donbas and other regions.”

In the Donetsk region, site of the heaviest fighting, seven civilians were killed and 14 wounded over the past 24 hours in attacks on cities, its governor said on July 16.

However, Serhiy Hayday, governor of the neighboring Luhansk region, said Ukrainian troops had repelled a Russian overnight assault on a strategic eastern highway. He said Russian forces had been attempting to capture the main road link between the cities of Lysychansk and Bakhmut “for more than two months.”

“They still cannot control several kilometers of this road,” Hayday wrote on Telegram.





Photo Gallery:

Shocking Images Capture Destruction In Historic Ukrainian City Of Vinnytsya

Rescue work continued on July 15 following a Russian missile strike the previous day in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsya that killed at least 23 people, including three children, and left many more unaccounted for. Images from the strike have caused outrage around the world.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address late on July 16 that air-raid warnings were being sounded across the country, including in Dnipro and Kremenchuk, two cities south of Kyiv along the Dnieper River.

He said the Russians “are realizing that we are gradually becoming stronger” and were using attacks on cities to “pressure” and “intimidate” Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian Army’s General Staff said early on July 16 that their forces had successfully repelled assault operations by Russian troops near the Spirne-Ivano-Daryivka areas of Donetsk.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom President Petro Kotin said in a televised interview that the situation at Zaporizhzhya is “extremely tense” and pressure on the Russians to free the area’s nuclear plant “insufficient.”

Around 500 Russian soldiers are said to be controlling access to Zaporizhzhya, which lies on the Dnieper River in southeastern Ukraine and has been in Russian hands since the early weeks of the invasion.

“The occupiers bring their machinery there, including missile systems, from which they already shell the other side of the Dnieper River and the territory of Nikopol,” Kotin said.

He also criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency’s handling of the situation around Zaporizhzhya, which before the war supplied around one-fifth of Ukraine’s domestically generated energy.

“[The IAEA] is playing some political games, balancing between Russia and Ukraine,” Kotin said.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Reuters, AFP, and AP

Ukraine fans celebrate their first goal in the play-off semifinal of the UEFA World Cup Qualifiers in Glasgow, Scotland, on June 1.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on July 15 dismissed Russia’s appeals of decisions by soccer governing bodies FIFA and UEFA to ban them from all competition after the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

The CAS ruling upholds the decisions in February by European soccer’s governing body UEFA and global soccer’s governing body FIFA to exclude the Russian national and club teams.

FIFA and UEFA decided shortly after the invasion that all Russian teams would be suspended from FIFA and UEFA competitions. CAS in March rejected a request from the Russian soccer federation to freeze FIFA’s suspension, which ended Russia’s hopes of competing in the 2022 World Cup.

The Football Union of Russia (FUR) and a group of Russian clubs appealed to CAS against the ban. Six appeals in all were lodged — one by the FUR against FIFA, one by the FUR against UEFA, and one each from four clubs, Zenit St. Petersburg, Dynamo Moscow, FC Sochi, and CSKA Moscow, against UEFA.

The CAS panel determined that in all cases the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the worldwide response “created unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances to which FIFA and UEFA had to respond.”

In determining that Russian teams and clubs should be barred from FIFA and UEFA competitions under their aegis, the panel held that both parties acted “within the scope of the discretion granted to them under their respective statutes and regulations.”

CAS also said its panel found it unfortunate that the current situation for which Russian soccer teams, clubs, and players have no responsibility had such an adverse effect on them and on Russian soccer generally.

Those effects, however, are “offset by the need for the secure and orderly conduct of football events for the rest of the world,” CAS ruled.

The written decision did not refer to the fighting as an invasion or a war — terms rejected by Russia, which calls its actions a “special military operation.”

Russia’s national soccer federation said it “strongly disagrees with the CAS decision and reserves the right to continue protecting its own interests.” Next steps could include a demand for compensation or a new appeal to the Swiss supreme court.

The decision had been widely anticipated by Russian clubs. They have been making plans to schedule domestic cup games on the dates when European games will be played next season.

Belarusian national teams and clubs can still compete, but UEFA has insisted any home matches involving sides from that country must be played in a neutral territory and with no spectators.

Based on reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AP

Supporters of the MKO protest outside Stockholm District Court at the start of Hamid Nouri’s trial in Stockholm on August 10, 2021.

The families of the victims and survivors of the 1988 mass executions in Iran expressed relief after a court in Sweden convicted ex-official Hamid Nouri of murder and other charges in connection with the executions.

Iraj Mesdaghi, a former political prisoner who spent more than 10 years in Iranian prisons between 1981 and 1991, told Radio Farda, “Our voice will be heard more every day,” he said. “Nothing can stop our movement for justice, and every day more people will realize what happened in Iran.”

Hamid Ashtari, a former political prisoner who together with Iraj Mesdaghi filed the first complaint against Nouri, said in an interview with Radio Farda that “this verdict is a condemnation of the Islamic republic, and this verdict will be a document for future courts.”

Nouri, 61, was convicted of committing a “serious crime against international law” and “murder” and sentenced to life in prison, the Stockholm district court said on July 14. Iran condemned the decision, saying it was politically motivated. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said it had “no legal validity.”

Esmat Vatanparast, who lost 11 family members in the executions, said after the sentence was announced that President Ibrahim Raisi, who was a chief of Iran’s judiciary at the time of the executions and Nouri’s boss, should also be tried.

“I slept many nights with sadness, but today I am happy,” Vatanparast added.

Nouri was arrested at a Stockholm airport in 2019 and was charged with war crimes for the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj in 1988.

The killings initially targeted members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), a political-militant organization that advocated the overthrow of Iran’s clerical regime, but eventually encompassed all left-wing opponents of the regime, including communists, Trotskyists, Marxist-Leninists, and others.

Amnesty International estimated that at least 5,000 people were executed on Khomeini’s orders, saying in a 2018 report that “the real number could be higher.” Iran has never acknowledged the killings.

Sweden’s principle of universal jurisdiction allows its courts to try a person on serious charges such as murder or war crimes regardless of where the alleged offenses took place.

Nouri is the only person so far to be tried in the mass executions. He has denied the charges.

With writing and reporting by Ardeshir Tayebi

Denis Manturov, 53, was officially nominated for the position on July 13 after President Vladimir Putin signed a decree increasing the number of deputy prime ministers to 11.

The Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, approved at its extraordinary session on July 15 Denis Manturov, the minister of industry and trade, as a deputy prime minister in charge of weapons industries.

Manturov, 53, was officially nominated for the position on July 13 after President Vladimir Putin signed a decree increasing the number of deputy prime ministers to 11.

Russian news agencies quoted Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier as saying the introduction of the new position was necessitated by the need to make quick decisions in the face of unprecedented Western sanctions leveled against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Shortly after the lawmakers’ approval, Putin signed the decree on Manturov’s appointment to the post.

The State Duma’s extraordinary session also approved dozens of bills regulating measures to support Russian citizens, military personnel, and the economy.

The session also announcement that Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, who used to supervise weapons industries, has been named to replaced Dmitry Rogozin as head of the state-controlled Roskosmos space agency.

Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS

Kyrgyz criminal boss Chyngyz Jumagulov has been linked to another infamous kingpin for whom the United States has offered a $1 million reward. (file photo)

BISHKEK — Kyrgyz authorities say they have detained notorious criminal boss Chyngyz Jumagulov, who has been linked to another infamous kingpin for whom the United States has offered a $1 million reward.

The State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on July 15 that Jumagulov, known under the nickname Giant Chyngyz, is suspected of “organization of a criminal group and systemic extortion of money in extremely large amounts from entrepreneurs.”

The UKMK called on all citizens who consider themselves victims of Jumagulov’s group to turn to authorities.

Last week, media reports said that Jumagulov was involved in a shoot-out in Bishkek’s outskirts, giving controversial details about his alleged arrest later dismissed by the Interior Ministry.

The 41-year-old kingpin has a long criminal career and a lengthy criminal record.

Kyrgyz authorities have said Jumagulov is linked to a larger criminal group led by notorious kingpin Kamchy Kolbaev, who also goes by the name Kolya Bishkeksky.

The 47-year-old Kolbaev was detained in October 2020 on suspicion of organizing a criminal group and participating in the activities of an organized criminal group but was unexpectedly released in March last year.

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek expressed concerns over his release at the time and described Kolbaev as a “transnational organized crime boss” and a “convicted murderer whose criminal network engages in drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking and other dangerous criminal activity.”

In 2014, the U.S. State Department offered a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of Kolbaev’s criminal network.

Judges of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Constitutional Court Mato Tadić, president of the judges (center), and vice presidents Mirsad Ceman (right) and Miodrag Simovic (left) on July 15.

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Constitutional Court has annulled an attempt by the country’s Serb-dominated republic to prevent genocide denial from being punishable, keeping a year-old ban in place from the international community’s overseer to the fractious Balkan country.

The court’s judges on July 15 announced their decision to declare unconstitutional a law passed in the Republika Srpska entity that makes up half Bosnia alongside the Bosniak and Croat federation.

Outgoing international High Representative Valentin Inzko imposed a genocide-denial ban in July of last year, infuriating the Bosnian Serb member of the current three-man presidency, Milorad Dodik.

Inzko used his powers to criminalize the denial of internationally or Bosnian-recognized genocides, like the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb troops. He also outlawed hate speech and some public honors for convicted war criminals.

Dodik has continued to press for measures to establish competing authorities in Republika Srpska and further his declared aim of secession for the Serb-majority republic from the rest of Bosnia.

Bosnia is still governed under an ethnically based architecture set out by the 1995 Dayton Agreements that ended three years of intense war in the former Yugoslav republic marked by ethnic cleansing and brutality.

Inzko has since been replaced by German Christian Schmidt.

In July of last year, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted a law on “non-implementation” of Inzko’s decree inside the republic.

The massacre in Srebenica has been declared an act of genocide by two international courts.

But some Serbs and many in Republika Srpska’s leadership continue to dispute that designation as well as other assignations of blame for atrocities during the Bosnian War.

Republika Srpska representatives have boycotted the work of state institutions since the Inzko decree on genocide denial.

Data from the Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office shows that since the beginning of the ban, about 40 complaints have been filed against citizens and officials around the country.

Dodik is among the targets of those complaints.

So far, prosecutors say, no indictments have been filed.

Briton Paul Urey was in Ukraine doing humanitarian work when he was captured by forces fighting against pro-Kyiv troops.

Britain has expressed shock over the death of a British aid worker while in the custody of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine and summoned the Russian ambassador to demand an explanation.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss responded on July 15 to reports that British citizen Paul Urey, who was captured by forces fighting against pro-Kyiv troops in Ukraine, died “due to illness and stress” while in detention.

“I am shocked to hear reports of the death of British aid worker Paul Urey while in the custody of a Russian proxy in Ukraine,” she said in a statement on Twitter. “Russia must bear the full responsibility for this.”

She said Urey was captured while trying to help Ukrainians “in the face of the unprovoked Russian invasion.”

A representative of a separatist group in Donetsk announced Urey’s death earlier on July 15.

“He died on July 10,” the representative, Darya Morozova, said on Telegram. The 45-year-old died “due to illness and stress,” she added.

Morozova also said Urey suffered from diabetes.

Urey was detained in April at a checkpoint near Zaporizhzhya along with another British man. They had been operating on their own in the war zone, helping to evacuate civilians.

The Russia-backed fighters described Urey as a “professional” soldier and accused him of “mercenary activities.”

Dominik Byrne, co-founder of the charity group Presidium Network, said the Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region knew Urey needed a regular supply of insulin to treat his diabetes.

“It’s obvious that his welfare was not looked after,” Byrne said.

The Russian authorities and the separatists denied the Red Cross access to him and the aid group was never able to verify his actual conditions in prison.

Byrne said the Red Cross and other agencies along with the British government tried in vain to secure Urey’s release.

“We are formally calling for his captors to release his body and help us repatriate it back to the U.K. for his family,” he said. “We really feel that is of ultimate importance and the least they can do at this stage.”

Urey’s distraught daughters told Sky News in May that they were “preparing for the worst.”

His mother, Linda Urey, said she was “absolutely devastated” to learn of her son’s death.

In a message since deleted from Facebook, she accused the separatist leaders of being murders.

She indicated that she had informed her son’s captors that he was diabetic.

Based on reporting by AFP, The Telegraph, and The Mirror

G20 finance ministers, central bankers, and senior officials meet in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss the potential global fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Host Indonesia has urged G20 leaders gathered in Bali to make progress countering the threats to the global economy from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, warning that the conflict’s humanitarian fallout could be catastrophic.

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said hopes are high that the G20 can meet the challenges stemming from the threat of war, spiking commodity prices, and fallout hampering poorer countries’ ability to repay debt.

“We are acutely aware that the cost of our failure to work together is more than we can afford. The humanitarian consequences for the world, and especially for many low-income countries would be catastrophic,” she said.

Some Western ministers began their visit with criticism of Russia at the talks, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen saying President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal and unjust war” is the primary factor behind the world’s current economic crisis.

Sri Mulyani urged members to “build bridges between each other” to solve the raft of current problems.

The G20 includes countries that have imposed unprecedented sanctions against Russia and accuse its forces of war crimes in Ukraine but also countries like China, India, and South Africa, which have avoided stern measures in response to the invasion.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov addressed the G20 meeting in person, while Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov reportedly took part virtually.

“It’s no secret that there were very frank statements being made [in the meeting], yet what matters is we are at the moment of enormous distress and disruption in our global economy as well as our geopolitical context,” Reuters quoted Achim Steiner, a UN Development Program administrator who attended one of the sessions, as saying.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walked out of a G20 session in Bali last week, blaming “frenzied criticism” of Russia for his exit.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Iranian activists abroad have accused officials and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (pictured on April 16 in Tehran) of colluding “against the people.”

Dozens of Iranian cultural and art activists living outside the country have condemned a recent wave of arrests in Iran whose targets have included three filmmakers and a political activist, and accused officials and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of colluding “against the people.”

The 140 signatories to the July 15 statement call for the detainees’ release and an end to repression.

“In order to prevent the creation of an atmosphere of intimidation and fear in the society and to prevent the silencing of basic and principled criticisms and protests against the behavior and policies of the Islamic government, we support all political activists and civil activists inside the country,” the statement said.

The signatories include singers, authors, journalists, composers, and filmmakers.

Recent arrests in Iran of prominent activists and filmmakers have been met with widespread international criticism.

The U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch, the Iranian Writers’ Association, and multiple European film and art festivals have condemned the government over the detentions.

The activists’ statement on July 15 said that amid a critical situation inside the country “multiple security institutions and the main decision-makers of the regime at the top levels of the government, following the direct will of Ali Khamenei, have openly fought against the people.”

They emphasized “the right to freedom of criticism by any individual or any political and civil group, as well as support for holding strikes, protests and demonstrations of all classes of people.”

They singled out the imprisonment of activists Mohammad Rasulof, Mostafa Al-Ahmad, and Jafar Panahi and demanded their “unconditional release as soon as possible.”

Panahi is among more than 300 Iranian filmmakers and cultural activists who issued a statement on July 9 condemning the arrests of Rasulof and Ahmad.

Rasulof and Ahmad had joined a group of Iranian filmmakers in publishing an open letter calling on Iran’s security forces to “lay down their arms” in the face of outrage over alleged “corruption, theft, inefficiency, and repression” following a violent crackdown against those protesting a building collapse in the southwestern city of Abadan that killed 41 people in May.

More than 100 Iranian filmmakers backed the statement, which said that soldiers “have turned into the people’s oppressors.”

Under Dmitry Rogozin’s tenure, Roskosmos suffered from a steady stream of critical reports about alleged corruption and theft.

The Kremlin has dismissed the controversial head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, ending a term that was dogged by rampant allegations of corruption and major tensions with other space agencies, including NASA.

Dmitry Rogozin will be replaced as the agency’s director general by Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, who previously served as deputy defense minister, the Kremlin said in its July 15 announcement.

No reason for Rogozin’s dismissal was given. It was unclear whether he had been pushed out of government entirely or would be given a new position elsewhere.

Rogozin made no public statement after the dismissal. However, a couple hours after the order was published, Roskosmos’s press service published a video on its YouTube channel showing highlights of Rogozin’s tenure. The video concluded with the words: “Rogozin. This is just the beginning.”

Also not long after the Kremlin order was released, Roskosmos announced a new partnership agreement with NASA, providing for “integrated crews” on both Russian and U.S. space flights.

NASA has not released any information about a new partnership agreement or commented on Rogozin’s dismissal.

A nationalist politician who previously served as a pugnacious ambassador to NATO, Rogozin had overseen Russia’s storied space agency since 2011, first as a deputy prime minister and then as director general after President Vladimir Putin reorganized the country’s space and military industrial complex.

Roskosmos is a sprawling, billion-dollar state-controlled corporation that inherited an infrastructure and reputation for ambitious space exploration during the Soviet era.

It’s also been a key partner in building and operating the International Space Station (ISS), working closely with foreign space agencies including NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) for decades.

Under Rogozin’s tenure, Roskosmos suffered from a steady stream of critical reports about alleged corruption and theft.

Putin ordered the building of a new spaceport in Russia’s Far East, but hundreds of millions of rubles have gone missing from the ongoing construction of the facility, called Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Prosecutors have launched criminal investigations into subcontractors, and the head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, Aleksei Kudrin, has documented more than 30 billion rubles’ ($512 million) worth of financial violations at the agency, most recently last month.

Kudrin’s reports on Roskomos’s embezzlement problems have frequently been released publicly in televised meetings with Putin.

Rogozin’s tenure has also been marked by serious strains with NASA, Russia’s largest space partner.

Despite a decade of worsening relations between Washington and Moscow, NASA and Roskosmos maintained a working relationship. NASA relied exclusively on Roskosmos to ferry astronauts and supplies to and from the space station after the U.S. shuttle program ended — a lucrative source of income for Russia.

That began to change in 2020, when the private U.S. company SpaceX successfully flew astronauts to the station, signaling the end of Russia’s virtual monopoly on transport to the station.

The relationship strained further in 2018 when a small hole was found in the hull of part of the space station. Rogozin suggested publicly that a U.S. astronaut may have drilled the hole deliberately as a way to get back to Earth ahead of schedule.

In 2021, a Russian cargo craft arriving at the station had a misfire, nearly knocking the station out of its orbit.

Later that year, Russia defense officials conducted a test of an anti-satellite weapon, sending a cloud of debris hurtling around the Earth and threatening the ISS. Anonymous officials at Roskosmos said they were unaware of the test, and quietly voiced their own concerns. But the United States responded angrily.

Earlier this month, Roskosmos again drew a rebuke from NASA when three cosmonauts aboard the station posed for photographs with the flags of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

The timing of the stunt coincided with Russian claims that its forces completely controlled the Ukrainian region of Luhansk and that its troops were advancing slowly in what appeared to an effort to take all of Donetsk, as well.

Tajik bloggers Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda (left) and Zavqibek Saidamini were detained separately last week and no information has been made public about what charges they might face or where exactly they are being held.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Tajikistan to fully disclose information on the whereabouts of two detained bloggers with a history of critical views and immediately release them.

Zavqibek Saidamini and Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda were detained separately last week and no information has been made public about what charges they might face or where exactly they are being held.

Both Saidamini and Pirmuhammadzoda worked with journalists Daler Imomali and Abdullo Ghurbati, who were detained in mid-June, and have published calls for their release.

“Tajik authorities’ failure to provide information on the whereabouts of Zavqibek Saidamini and Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda is wholly unacceptable and a further sign of their blatant disregard for the law while attempting to stifle discussion of inconvenient topics,” Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a July 14 statement. “Authorities should immediately disclose Saidamini and Pirmuhammadzoda’s whereabouts and release them without delay.”

The bloggers’ relatives have told RFE/RL that neither journalist appears to have been given access to a lawyer.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been criticized by international human rights groups for years over his administration’s alleged disregard for independent media, religious freedoms, civil society, and political pluralism in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on May 30.

Ukraine has touted the effectiveness of international sanctions over Russia’s unprovoked invasion after Hungary’s leader criticized Europe for “shooting itself in the lungs” with ill-considered financial and economic punishments.

Unprecedented sanctions on business, trade, and travel have been imposed by the European Union, the United States, and other governments since a simmering war with Russia-backed separatists was overtaken by tens of thousands of Russian troops pouring across the border into Ukraine in late February.

“It is not sanctions that are killing the European economy, but Russia’s hybrid war,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on July 15.

Earlier in the day, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told an interviewer that if the sanctions aren’t rolled back they risk killing off the European economy.

“Initially I thought we had only shot ourselves in the foot, but now it is clear that the European economy has shot itself in the lungs, and it is gasping for air,” Orban told Hungarian radio.

He cited rising gas and fuel costs, and called the current situation “unbearable.”

Orban predicted a “moment of change” in Brussels and said “the sanctions policy was based on wrong assumptions and it must be changed.”

Orban has expanded ties with Moscow while defiantly challenging Brussels in recent years, and he has pushed back hard in negotiations on Russian gas cutoffs with Hungary’s fellow EU members.

Moscow has responded to international sanctions with countersanctions and other measures including trying to force previously agreed payments for gas and other goods into rubles instead of dollars or euros.

Orban said the sanctions “don’t help Ukraine” and threaten to “kill off the European economy.”

“Let me remind you that [sanctions] were introduced in response to the full-scale war launched by Russia against our state, which has already claimed tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives, left hundreds of thousands of critical infrastructure facilities in ruins, and forced millions of people to leave their homes,” the Ukrainian ministry countered. “Sanctions help hold the aggressor state accountable for its crimes, as well as weaken its ability to continue waging war.”

Orban’s national populist Fidesz party won national elections by a wide margin in April to keep him in power for another four years, based in part on a strategy of handouts and caps on some essential goods like fuel.

Russian journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv in 2018.

MOSCOW — Russian authorities have added a formerly prominent Russian journalist who currently works for a Kyiv-based Ukrainian TV channel to their fugitives list.

Yevgeny Kiselyov’s name appeared on the Interior Ministry’s wanted list on July 15 without explanation.

Kiselyov is a former managing director of Russia’s once-independent NTV television channel and currently works for the Ukraina 24 television channel in Kyiv.

In early April, Russia’s Justice Ministry added Kiselyov to the registry of alleged foreign agents, saying he was involved in political activities sponsored by Ukraine.

Russian officials’ long-running clampdown on media and independent criticism has dramatically increased since President Vladimir Putin launched his large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The 66-year-old Kiselyov was one of Russia’s best-known journalists in the late 1990s and early 2000s in part for his coverage of corruption in the government.

He left NTV in 2001 after the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom took it over.

Kiselyov moved to Kyiv in 2008, citing greater freedom of expression in Ukraine.

His current programs at Ukraina 24 television channel in Kyiv are critical of Russia’s ongoing invasion.

Moody’s issued a comment on July 14 suggesting actions by Belarus “constitute a default.” 

The Finance Ministry of Belarus has accused international debt-rating agency Moody’s of a provocation that Minsk says is intended to affect its eurobond market.

Belarus tripped toward default as unprecedented sanctions largely cut off both it and ally Russia from international financial markets and reportedly led Minsk to miss a payment on its dollar bonds.

Moody’s issued a comment on July 14 suggesting actions by Belarus “constitute a default.”

Russia fell into default last month on its foreign debts for the first time since 1918, a result of sanctions and countermoves over its war on Ukraine that have included Moscow’s efforts to force outsiders to make or accept payments in rubles rather than dollars or other hard currencies.

Countries that default generally lose access to global investors and are forced to pay higher costs of borrowing due to increased credit risk.

The Belarusian ministry added that it hadn’t requested any assessment of Belarus’s debt situation from Moody’s nor had the agency contacted the ministry on the debt issue.

Belarus is a key Russian ally whose international isolation intensified amid a brutal crackdown after a flawed presidential election in 2020 in which longtime President Alyaskandr Lukashenka claimed re-election to a sixth term.

Lukashenka’s regime has since sparked a migrant crisis on its borders with EU members, diverted an international flight to Minsk in an apparent scheme to detain a regime critic, and allowed thousands of Russian troops to stage part of the invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territory.

The Finance Ministry on July 15 said Moody’s accusation of default on sovereign debt was “provocative” and aimed at creating an “artificial shock” around Belarus eurobonds, according to Reuters.

People attend a gay pride parade in Budapest in July 2021. The LGBT community and other critics say the government stigmatizes sexual minorities and stifles discourse on sexual orientation.

The European Commission says it is referring Hungary to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over alleged discrimination against LGBT people, restrictions on media freedom, and gasoline pricing that discriminates against foreign-registered vehicles.

The commission announced the moves in a statement on July 15 as part of its regular package of decisions on infringements that endanger rights, fundamental freedoms, or rule of law among member states.

Entrenched Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been battling Brussels on a range of issues from perceived democratic and rights backsliding, to sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, to enlargement and other EU internal issues.

The LGBT issue has been a particular source of irritation between Brussels and Budapest.

“The Commission is…referring Hungary to the Court for (i) discrimination of LGBTIQ people and (ii) for restricting media freedom and the rights of Klubradio to use radio spectrum,” the European Commission said on July 15.

Orban’s government passed legal changes in June 2021 that drew sharp criticism from the European Commission, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, and members of the LGBT community who say they stigmatize sexual minorities and stifle discourse on sexual orientation.

The Hungarian law “discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the commission charged again in its infringements update.

The EU’s executive arm has balked at taking Orban’s government to court on the LGBT legislation over worries its interference could fuel anti-EU resentments.

Orban has repeatedly rejected accusations of discrimination and said the legislation allows parental control of what kind of sex education children receive at school.

Orban has also used his supermajority for more than a decade to exclude independent media and force a consolidation of friendly media owned by allies or under a nonprofit umbrella his party established several years ago.

The Klubradio case stems from a refusal by the Fidesz-dominated Hungarian Media Council to extend that independent broadcaster’s license last year.

A Hungarian requirement introduced in May excludes motorists with foreign license plates from a price ceiling introduced last November — along with other giveaways seen as luring voters ahead of national elections in April that were dominated by Fidesz.

It forces foreign vehicle owners instead to pay market prices for fuel at Hungarian gas stations.

“Finally, to protect the fundamental principles of free movement, which are the cornerstone of the EU’s single market, the Commission is launching an infringement procedure against Hungary for having introduced discriminatory fuel prices for vehicles with a foreign number plate,” the European Commision said on July 15.

With additional reporting by dpa

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