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Serbian National Bank Condemns Kosovo's Move To Block Delivery Of Dinars Under New Rule Favoring Euros

Belgrade, which has never acknowledged Kosovo's independence, still pays many ethnic Serbs at institutions in Serbian-dominated parts of Kosovo in dinars. (file photo)
Belgrade, which has never acknowledged Kosovo's independence, still pays many ethnic Serbs at institutions in Serbian-dominated parts of Kosovo in dinars. (file photo)

The National Bank of Serbia on February 7 condemned the refusal by Kosovo to allow a delivery of dinars into the country just days after the government in Pristina introduced a new regulation banning the use of any currency other than the euro in commercial transactions.

"The National Bank of Serbia strongly condemns today's incident and reiterates that it is necessary to immediately repeal the discriminatory, illegal and outrageous measures," the country's central bank said in a statement.

The dinars were intended for the payment of salaries, pensions, and other benefits to ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo.

A spokesman for the Kosovo customs authority said Serbian representatives asked at the Jarinje border crossing whether the import of the dinars was allowed.

"We explained that without the authorization of the Central Bank of Kosovo, the circulation of monetary funds is not allowed," Adriatik Stavileci told RFE/RL.

The National Bank of Serbia said the vehicle carrying the dinars was sent “in accordance with the usual practice for many years.” The cash was to be picked up by another transport company that has permission from Kosovar authorities to transport money, it added.

The bank’s statement reiterated that "the discriminatory, illegal, and outrageous measures" introduced by Kosovo should be withdrawn.

The restriction banning financial institutions from using any currency other than the euro for commercial transactions took effect on February 1.

Ethnic Serbs In Kosovo Unsettled By Looming Ban On Serbian Dinar
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Though Kosovo is not in the euro currency zone, it unilaterally adopted the euro in 2002 to help bring monetary stability and to simplify and reduce transaction costs inside and outside the country.

Belgrade, which has never acknowledged Kosovo's independence, still pays many ethnic Serbs at institutions in Serbian-dominated parts of Kosovo in dinars. Many also hold their pensions and get child allowances in dinars.

Kosovo's deputy prime minister, Besnik Bislimi, said the National Bank of Serbia sent a truck full of Serbian dinars worth nearly 1 million euros to the Kosovo border. He added that the individuals who transported the currency presented documents of a nonexistent company with the claim that they wanted to send the money to an entity that also does not exist in Kosovo. This was to be for the benefit of people whose names they did not know or have, he said.

Bislimi said the new regulation clarifies that only banking and nonbanking financial institutions licensed by the Central Bank of Kosovo with special authorization from the institution can import currency into Kosovo.

"The Republic of Kosovo is willing to work and help find a mechanism that ensures such funds are legally sent to the final beneficiaries, and in the fastest possible time," Bislimi said on Facebook.

Serbs in Kosovo usually receive pensions from the Serbian budget on the 10th of the month, but Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on February 2 said the disbursements from the Serbian budget this month would be sent earlier.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the regulation is not against the Serbian dinar and that ethnic Serbs who receive pensions and other assistance from Serbia in dinars can continue to receive them, but these payments must be deposited in bank accounts in Kosovo in euros.

Kosovo Shutters Serbian-Backed Municipal Offices Days After Banning Foreign Currency
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Kosovo said the implementation of the regulation will take place through a transitional period during the month of February.

The European Union last week expressed concern over Kosovo’s move and urged officials in Pristina to allow an extended implementation period to avoid “seriously complicating” the lives of ethnic Serbs in the country who are being forced to move away from the dinar and adjust to a new currency regime.

The United States also expressed concern that the decree could negatively affect the Serb population living in Kosovo.

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4 Armenian Soldiers Killed When Truck Plunges Into Ravine

At least four Armenian soldiers were killed and 20 others injured on April 12 when the military vehicle they were in veered off the road and fell into a ravine. The Armenian Defense Ministry said the incident happened at around 3:25 p.m. local time. It did not disclose the location or identify of the dead and injured. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee said a preliminary investigation is being carried out. The spokesman said in a statement that investigators currently are conducting “investigative and operational activities, including inspecting the scene of the incident and the wrecked vehicle." To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, click here.

China Is Surging Equipment Sales To Russia For Ukraine War, U.S. Finds

China has surged sales to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics, and other technology that Moscow in turn is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft, and other weaponry for use in its war against Ukraine, according to a U.S. assessment. Two senior Biden administration officials, who discussed the sensitive findings on April 12 on the condition of anonymity, said that in 2023 about 90 percent of Russia’s microelectronics came from China. Russia has used the technology to make missiles, tanks, and aircraft. In addition, nearly 70 percent Russia’s approximately $900 million in machine tool imports late last year came from China.

Russia Summons French Ambassador Over Minister's 'Unacceptable' Comments

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne

Russia on April 12 summoned the French ambassador to Moscow following "unacceptable" comments by French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Sejourne on April 8 said that France had no interest in talking to the Kremlin after a conversation a few days earlier between Russian and French army ministers ended in divergent accounts. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the ambassador "was reprimanded over making such statements, as they have nothing to do with the real state of affairs." A French diplomatic source told AFP the Russian ministry “does not accept that we correct its lies.”

Tajik Foreign Minister Speaks Out About Treatment Of Crocus City Hall Suspects

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) shakes hands with Tajikistan's Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin as they meet on the sidelines of a CIS conference in Minsk on April 12.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) shakes hands with Tajikistan's Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin as they meet on the sidelines of a CIS conference in Minsk on April 12.

Tajikistan's foreign minister on April 12 condemned the treatment of the mostly Tajik suspects in last month’s terrorist attack on a Moscow-area concert hall that killed more than 140 people.

Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, speaking in Minsk at a meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), also criticized what he said was a media campaign to slander Tajiks.

After the attack on Crocus City Hall on March 22, several Tajiks were arrested and showed signs of abuse when they appeared in Basmanny District Court in Moscow. The four accused gunmen had bruised and swollen faces and showed other signs of having been severely beaten. There were unconfirmed reports that one of them had his ear cut off during his arrest.

"The use of torture in the form of bodily mutilation is unacceptable," Muhriddin was quoted as saying on April 12. "The price of confessions extracted in this way is well known to everyone."

Muhriddin said that Russian security authorities should respect the rights of the Tajik suspects and adhere to the principles and norms of international law in their investigations into the massacre, especially regarding the presumption of innocence, the prohibition of torture, and ill-treatment of detainees.

In addition, Muhriddin condemned the surge of xenophobia in Russia after the attack, saying that as a result of an “ill-conceived information campaign” a “negative perception is being formed toward citizens of Tajikistan and Tajiks.”

Of the 11 men in custody, 10 are Tajik; one is reported to be a Kyrgyz-born Uzbek man who has Russian citizenship.

Some experts and Tajiks living in Russia had previously criticized Tajik authorities for not speaking out about the rights of Tajik citizens and choosing to remain silent in the face of torture of suspects and mistreatment of Tajiks.

The attack was Russia’s worst terrorist attack in two decades. Responsibility was claimed by an offshoot of the Islamic State extremist group.

Netherlands Pledges Additional 1 Billion Euros In Military Support For Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte walk in downtown Kharkiv on March 1.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte walk in downtown Kharkiv on March 1.

The Netherlands will provide Ukraine with an additional 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion) in military support this year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on April 12.

The extra support takes the total sum for this year to 3 billion euros, caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on X, formerly Twitter.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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The Netherlands, which has been one of the leading donors of military support to Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion began in February 2022, also decided to make 3 billion euros available for military support next year in addition to 400 million euros in economic aid that is also intended to help pay for vital repairs to energy infrastructure.

Rutte said the Netherlands will continue working with international partners to do everything possible to expedite the provision of more munitions and air-defense equipment, adding that Amsterdam is working on this closely with Denmark and the Czech Republic, among other countries.

“Ukraine must win this fight. For their security and ours,” he said.

Rutte said he discussed the new aid in a phone call with Zelenskiy and promised to work on accelerating the supply of weapons and ammunition.

"Thank you, Mark, thank you, Dutch people! This is an exemplary case of support for Ukraine," Zelenskiy said on Telegram following the phone call.

Zelenskiy also said he and Rutte discussed working with partners to accelerate the supply of shells for artillery, ammunition, and air-defense systems to Ukraine.

Just last month, Zelenskiy and Rutte signed a package of aid during a visit Rutte made on March 1 to Kharkiv. Zelenskiy put the value of that arms pact at 2 billion euros.

Zelenskiy also noted at the time that the Netherlands belongs to a coalition of states supplying Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets and said then that he and Rutte agreed to speed up the process of supplying Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets. Zelenskiy has said F-16s are expected to be part of Ukraine’s forces later this year.

With reporting by Reuters

Argentine Court Finds Iran, Proxies To Blame For 1994 Jewish Center Bombing

A police officer prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed a seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on July 18, 1994.
A police officer prevents people from approaching the site where a powerful explosion destroyed a seven-story building housing the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, on July 18, 1994.

A high court in Argentina has ruled that Iran, and its Lebanese proxy Hizballah, are responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured some 300 others.

In a ruling made public on April 11, Argentina's Court of Cassation declared the attack a "crime against humanity," saying it was part of a series of attacks coordinated by Iran and carried out by its proxies.

The decision, close to the 30th anniversary of the attack, described the bombings as a retaliatory act by Iran following Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear cooperation agreements in the mid-1980s. The Argentine judiciary found that Lebanon's Hizballah, acting under Iran's direction, executed the attack that devastated Latin America's largest Jewish community.

This ruling underscores accusations by Argentinian prosecutors who have long claimed Iranian officials orchestrated not only the community center attack but also the prior 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.

The court decision represents "a significant victory for the victims, their families, and everyone who has contributed to documenting this crime in pursuit of justice," said the D.C.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), which actively documents extrajudicial killings orchestrated by the Islamic republic both inside Iran and globally.

The court’s judgment, coinciding with comments from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei regarding an alleged Israeli attack on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, reaffirms the fraught relations between Argentina and Iran.

The ruling also opens a path for the families of the victims of the attack to seek compensation from Tehran, which has refused to turn over Iranians convicted in Argentina for the attacks, despite arrest warrants being issued by Interpol.

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, applauded the decision and said that on the back of it, Argentina should designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

"Iran is the enemy of Israel as well as of Argentina and together with Hizballah leads terrorist activity in South America and throughout the world, and this decision against the Revolutionary Guards will be an important step in stopping Iranian aggression," he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "Now is the time to stop Iran."

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Former Ukrainian Secret Service Employee Injured When Car Explodes In Moscow

A former Ukrainian secret service employee was injured when a device under his car exploded in Moscow on April 12. Russian media said Vasily Prozorov suffered leg injuries that are not considered life threatening after the device detonated as he tried to start his car. Prozorov worked for Ukraine's SBU until 2018. The following year, he told media in Moscow that he had collaborated with Russia “for ideological reasons” from April 2014 until his departure from the SBU. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

France To Co-Sponsor UN Resolution On Bosnian Genocide, Says Srebrenica Memorial

The Srebrenica Memorial Center on March 1
The Srebrenica Memorial Center on March 1

France will be one of the co-sponsors of a draft UN resolution on Srebrenica, the Srebrenica Memorial Center announced on April 12, a move that would establish a day marking the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.

The news, announced by the Srebrenica Memorial Center but has yet to be confirmed by France, came after the Voice of America (VOA) earlier this week reported that several UN member states are working on a draft resolution that would declare July 11 as the International Day of the Remembrance of the Genocide committed in Srebrenica in 1995.

The draft resolution is to be presented on April 17 at a closed-doors meeting at the UN, VOA reported citing unofficial sources.

The draft resolution, seen by RFE/RL, calls for the condemnation of any denial of the genocide in Srebrenica and encourages UN members to establish educational programs to prevent future manifestations of revisionism and genocide.

The move has been opposed by Milorad Dodik, the Russia-friendly leader of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic Serb entity, Republika Srpska, who threatened that if the resolution is adopted, "Republika Srpska will withdraw from the decision-making process in Bosnia."

Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the United States and Britain over his efforts to undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Balkan country's war in 1995, has reiterated his denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2008 ruled that the killing of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by ethnic Serb forces in July 1995 during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia was genocide.

The final text of the resolution is still in the works, and all 193 UN member countries will have their say on the document at the UN General Assembly early next month.

So far, more than 50 individuals have been sentenced to some 700 years in prison for their roles in the Srebrenica genocide.

Radovan Karadzic, the first president (1992-1995) of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia, was sentenced to life in prison by ICTY for the Srebrenica genocide and crimes against humanity. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander was also sentenced to life by the same court for his role in the genocide.

The initiators of the resolution are Germany and Rwanda, but as VOA has reported citing unofficial sources, the United States, Albania, Finland, New Zealand, Turkey, and other countries are also participating in the drafting of the text.

Ukraine, Russia Exchange Bodies Of More Than 120 Fallen Troops

The bodies of 99 fallen Ukrainian soldiers were returned to Kyiv, Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported in a message on April 12. "The bodies of 77 defenders killed in Donetsk, 20 fallen in Zaporizhzhya region, and two killed in Kharkiv" were returned, the message posted on Facebook said. Russian news site RBK meanwhile reported, citing Duma deputy Shamsail Saraliev, that Russia received 23 soldiers' bodies. The previous exchange took place on March 29. At that time, the Russian side received 29 bodies while Ukraine received the remains of 121 troops. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Brussels Says It Suspects Russia Of Interfering In EU Elections

European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament. 
European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament. 

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on April 12 an investigation into suspected Russian interference in European-wide elections in June, saying his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine. De Croo, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said the "the goal is very clear: a weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks." European-wide polls are being held on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament.

Moscow Expels Slovenian Diplomat In Tit-For-Tat Move

Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status." 
Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status." 

Russia has ordered a Slovenian diplomat to leave the country in a retaliatory move after Ljubljana expelled a Russian diplomat, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on April 12. The ministry said it had also told the Slovenian ambassador that his country was responsible for what it called the "destruction of bilateral relations" between Russia and Slovenia. "We regard this openly unfriendly step in the context of Ljubljana’s general course toward the destruction of Russian-Slovenian ties," the statement said. Slovenia on March 21 expelled a Russian diplomat over "activities incompatible with the diplomatic status."

Tehran Police To Launch New Phase Of Hijab Enforcement

Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.
Women walk without the mandatory hijab in Iran.

Tehran police said they will launch a new phase of enforcement of the mandatory hijab law from April 13 even though the new "hijab and chastity" bill has yet to be approved by the country's Guardians Council.

Police Chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the new phase of tightened enforcement ahead of a similar declaration made by the police chief of the southern city of Bushehr. Both said a more "vigorous enforcement" of the law will begin in all public spaces starting April 13.

Even though the Guardians Council has yet to approve the law, a necessary step to it becoming official, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a directive during the Eid al-Fitr prayer sermon for enforcement of measures against what he called "religious norm-breaking" within Iranian society.

Khamenei also emphasized the mandatory hijab law as a "definite religious decree," underscoring the obligation of all to adhere to this and other legal decrees.

The "hijab and chastity" bill, which passed in parliament last year without public discussion, came in reaction to a wave of protests and defiance by women against being forced to wear the head covering. However, the approval process is still ongoing after some objections by the Guardians Council, including questions over how the law will be enforced.

Mehdi Bagheri, a lawmaker involved in the bill's review, said there are plans to resubmit an amended bill to the Guardians Council next week.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, head of Iran's judiciary, said that given Khamenei's comments, existing legal frameworks could be leveraged to enhance compliance without waiting the bill's formal approval.

The renewed focus on the mandatory hijab enforcement arrives as numerous reports suggest a decline in adherence to the head scarf among Iranian women in Tehran and other cities following widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police in 2022 for an alleged hijab violation.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country's deteriorating living standards.

Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Updated

Russia Strikes More Ukraine Energy Infrastructure

A social media image shows the burning Tripilska Thermal Power Plant -- the largest supplier of electricity to the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zyhtomr regions -- burning on April 11 following a targeted Russian missile attack.
A social media image shows the burning Tripilska Thermal Power Plant -- the largest supplier of electricity to the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zyhtomr regions -- burning on April 11 following a targeted Russian missile attack.

Russia on April 12 kept up the pressure on Ukraine's energy infrastructure with a fresh series of drone and missile strikes that caused additional damage to an already battered electricity grid amid dwindling Ukrainian air-defense capabilities as critical Western military aid fails to materialize.

Russia in recent days has launched massive air and drone strikes on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure, causing casualties and major damage.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The new strikes on April 12 targeted an energy facility in the southern region of Dnipropetrovsk, which sustained serious damage after catching fire following a Russian drone attack early on April 12, the Ukrainian military and a regional official said.

The energy facility was not identified in the military report, which only said debris from four downed Russian drones fell on the territory of a "critical" infrastructure facility in the Kryvorizka district, setting it on fire.

Ukrainian firefighters managed to put out the fire, but the extent of the damage could not be immediately assessed, regional head Serhiy Lysak said.

Meanwhile, Kherson regional administration head Oleksandr Prokudin said on April 12 that overnight Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian region damaged a critical infrastructure facility, without identifying which one.

Prokudin said 15 settlements across the region were shelled, adding that residential areas were targeted in particular. He said that no casualties were immediately reported but that several houses had been destroyed.

Ukrainian air-defense systems shot down 16 out of the 17 drones launched by Russia at six regions on April 12, Ukraine's Air Force said in a message on social media.

"The Defense Forces of Ukraine shot down 16 Shahed-type attack UAVs within the Mykolayiv, Odesa, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Vinnytsya, and Khmelnytskiy regions," the Facebook post said.

On April 11, the Trypilska power plant, a major electricity supplier for the Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zhytomyr regions located some 50 kilometers south of the Ukrainian capital, was destroyed by Russian missiles.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Current Time journalists speak with outgunned Ukrainian soldiers as Moscow continues its efforts to overwhelm the country's defenses.

Outnumbered And Outgunned, Ukraine Struggles To Slow Russian Advance
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The strike, which left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, appeared to highlight Ukraine's waning capabilities to repel massive aerial barrages being launched by Moscow.

Ukraine has been pleading with its allies to speed up efforts to cover drastic shortfalls in ammunition and weaponry in recent weeks as a massive $60 billion aid package remains on hold in Washington as Republican lawmakers refuse to approve it without an agreement on deep domestic policy changes.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during a visit to Lithuania on April 11, pleaded with Ukraine's allies to give the embattled country more air-defense systems.

"The main task for now is to make every effort to strengthen our air-defense system, to meet the urgent needs of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, and to consolidate international support so that we can overcome Russian terror," Zelenskiy wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel Vows Defense If Iran Responds To Attack On Consulate

An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian consulate in Damascus after a suspected Israeli strike on April 2.
An ambulance is parked outside the Iranian consulate in Damascus after a suspected Israeli strike on April 2.

Israel’s military says it is prepared to defend the country and strike back if Iran retaliates for a deadly air strike on the Iranian Consulate in Syria. Tehran holds Israel responsible for the attack earlier this month, which the U.S. military believes Israel carried out. Israel has not commented on it. The increased tensions have sparked international concern that Israel's devastating war in Gaza against Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, could spill over into the rest of the Middle East.

EU Wants 'Substantial' Talks Between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Says Envoy

Toivo Klaar (right), the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, meets with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan in Yerevan on March 1.
Toivo Klaar (right), the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, meets with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan in Yerevan on March 1.

A top EU diplomat on April 11 said he wants to see "genuine, substantial negotiations" between Armenia and Azerbaijan leading to a peace treaty, agreements on border delimitation, and opening of transport links.

Toivo Klaar, the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, told RFE/RL that Armenia and Azerbaijan could move forward in the peace process faster if conditions are right.

"It should not take that long to arrive at a positive outcome if the political will is there, if the commitment is there. And that is what we want to work for together with Armenia, together with Azerbaijan, that indeed we get from the point where we are to a positive outcome," Klaar said.

Klaar added that Brussels supports the Turkey-Armenia normalization process, and he hopes the special envoys for normalization talks designated by Yerevan and Ankara will meet soon.

"My hope would be that in the near future this process would indeed move forward and show results for the sake of Armenia, for the sake of Turkey, for the sake of the region," he said.

As for Armenia's possible membership in the EU in the future, Klaar said it depends on political decisions made in Yerevan, Brussels, and the member states.

"There are so many elements related to this. Certainly what we are seeing right now is a strengthening of relations between the European Union and Armenia, which corresponds to the interests of the European Union, which corresponds to the interests of Armenia. How this relationship will evolve, we will have to see," he said.

Compared to only a few years ago, the relationship between the EU and Armenia has evolved significantly, he added, but it's too early to say where things will end up.

Armenia is only starting to catch up on some elements of the process that it could have achieved 10 years ago, he said.

"We are catching up on maybe lost time that we have had in our relationship," the diplomat said.

Armenia has long been a close ally of Russia but in recent months has taken steps to distance itself from that alliance, apparently angered by what it saw as a lack of support from Moscow during the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian government has also criticized Russian peacekeepers deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh of failing to stop Azerbaijan's lightning offensive in September last year that ended with Baku regaining control over the breakaway region that for three decades had been under ethnic Armenians' control.

In other signs of Armenia's move to distance itself from Russia, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said last month that his country had frozen its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Armenian Foreign Ministry said on April 10 that Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan will not attend a meeting on April 12 of his counterparts from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Moscow-led grouping of former Soviet republics that was set up immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The CSTO has been at the heart of Armenia's turn away from Moscow. The Pashinian government has long criticized the CSTO for its "failure to respond to the security challenges" facing Armenia.

Asked whether Armenia's membership in organizations like the Russian-led CSTO was an obstacle to the country's further integration with the EU, Klaar said: "Right now we have to look at what the Armenian government and what the Armenian people want to do, where they want to go, and how they see best the development of our relations."

A meeting last week in Brussels between Pashinian, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell represented "a real strengthening of EU-Armenia relations," Klaar said, adding that the United States is there to help support the resilience of Armenia.

At the meeting the EU unveiled an aid package for Armenia in the amount of 270 million euros (about $290 million) to be made available over the next four years, with the United States pledging $65 million in additional "development assistance" to Armenia this year.

Russia Sends Military Instructors To Niger

A supporter of Niger's ruling junta holds a placard in the colors of the Russian flag reading "Long Live Russia, Long Live Niger and Nigeriens" at the start of a protest called to fight for the country's freedom and push back against foreign interference in Niamey, Niger, on August 3, 2023.
A supporter of Niger's ruling junta holds a placard in the colors of the Russian flag reading "Long Live Russia, Long Live Niger and Nigeriens" at the start of a protest called to fight for the country's freedom and push back against foreign interference in Niamey, Niger, on August 3, 2023.

Russian military instructors arrived in Niger in a plane loaded with military equipment, Niger state television RTN said on April 11, citing an agreement between the junta and Russian President Vladimir Putin to boost cooperation. It aired footage of a military cargo plane unloading gear on April 10. A man in a camouflage uniform, whom RTN said was one of the instructors, said they were there to train the Nigerien Army and to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger. RTN also said Russia had agreed to install an anti-aircraft system in Niger.

Lufthansa Extends Suspension Of Flights To Tehran Amid Rising Tensions

Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.
Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines.

Germany's Lufthansa extended a suspension of its flights to Tehran on April 11 with the Middle East on alert for Iranian retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Iran's embassy in Syria. Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines are the only two Western carriers flying into Tehran, which is mostly served by Turkish and Middle Eastern airlines. The region and the United States have been on alert for an attack by Iran since April 1, when Israeli warplanes are suspected to have bombed the Iranian Embassy compound in Syria.

Father Of Slain Iranian Protester Detained, Whereabouts Unknown

Reza Lotfi's parents
Reza Lotfi's parents

The father of Reza Lotfi, who was among the hundreds of protesters killed by security forces during nationwide protests that swept across Iran in 2022, has been detained by police and taken to an undisclosed location, according to the HRANA news agency.

HRANA, which specializes in human rights coverage in Iran, quoted a family member as saying Kamal Lotfi was arrested on April 10 after he received a summons from the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the western Iranian city of Qorveh.

In April 2023, Kamal Lotfi was arrested and physically assaulted by security forces before being incarcerated at the Kamyaran prison. He was released from custody three months later.

Reza Lotfi was fatally shot by security personnel during protests in the city of Dehgolan in September 2022 after Mahsa Amini died under mysterious circumstances in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Tensions between the government and the families of those killed or arrested in the nationwide protests have been on the rise in recent months.

The government has been accused of stepping up the pressure on the victims' families through collective arrests and the summoning of grieving families by security agencies with the aim of keeping them from commemorating the deaths of their loved ones, which the government fears will trigger more unrest.

The Islamic republic has a long-standing history, extending over four decades, of employing tactics such as intimidation, threats, job termination, arrests, and imprisonment against the family members of individuals who have been killed or executed in protests.

This pattern of repression also extends to the dismissal of parents, siblings, and occasionally more distant relatives of deceased or executed protesters or political activists from their employment or educational institutions on multiple occasions.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Russian 'Shadow Fleet' Ups Risk Of Baltic Sea Spill, Finland's Border Guard Says

An oil tanker in the Gulf of Finland passes the Lakhta Center skyscraper, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2023.
An oil tanker in the Gulf of Finland passes the Lakhta Center skyscraper, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2023.

The risk of a large Baltic Sea oil spill has risen since Russia began using a "shadow fleet" of tankers to circumvent curbs on its oil exports, Finland's Border Guard warned on April 11. Mikko Simola, head of the Border Guard’s maritime-safety unit, told AFP that around 70 "ghost" oil tankers navigate through the Gulf of Finland every week, increasing the risk of "an accident with environmental consequences." Experts say the fleet of tankers with opaque ownership or without proper insurance has allowed the Kremlin to keep exporting despite a Western-imposed embargo and oil price cap.

German Foreign Minister Phones Iranian Counterpart As Mideast Tensions Rise

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (file photo)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock phoned her Iranian counterpart on April 11 to urge de-escalation amid rising concerns of a direct Iranian attack on Israel. "No one can have any interest in a conflagration with completely unforeseeable consequences," Baerbock said in Berlin, urging all actors in the region "to act responsibly and to exercise restraint." This was the message she conveyed to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, she said. Asked whether the call had been coordinated with Israel or the United States, she responded, "All diplomatic phone lines are running hot at this time to prevent a regional escalation."

IMF Chief Says Pakistan Seeking Potential Follow-Up Loan Program

IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva (left) meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in June 2023.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva (left) meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif in June 2023.

Pakistan is in discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a potential follow-up program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said on April 11. Speaking in Washington, Georgieva said Pakistan was successfully completing its existing program with the IMF and was now "turning to the fund for potentially having a follow-up program." But she said that it had important issues to solve, including "the tax base, how the richer part of society contributes to the economy, the way public spending is being directed, and of course, creating...a more transparent environment."

Recent Attacks On Nuclear Plant In Ukraine Raise Safety Concern To New Level, IAEA Chief Says

 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi attends a press conference in Kyiv in February 6.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi attends a press conference in Kyiv in February 6.

Attacks over the weekend on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine have raised the level of concern over the safety of the facility to an even higher level, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog told his agency's board of governors on April 11 in Vienna.

The most recent attacks "have shifted us into an acutely consequential juncture in this war," Rafael Grossi said in a statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Grossi added that he wanted "to ensure these reckless attacks do not mark the beginning of a new and gravely dangerous front," according to the statement as prepared for delivery at the opening of an emergency board meeting called by Russia and Ukraine.

Grossi issued a stark warning on April 8, a day after the plant in southern Ukraine -- Europe's largest -- was struck by drones. He said an IAEA team of experts located at the plant "confirmed that at least three direct hits” against the plant's main reactor containment structures had taken place.

Grossi said on April 11 that those attacks "marked a major escalation of the nuclear safety and security dangers in Ukraine, significantly increasing the risk of a nuclear accident."

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The plant has been controlled by Russian forces since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Grossi also appealed to military decision makers to abstain from any action violating the IAEA's principles to prevent a nuclear accident and he urged the international community to work toward a de-escalation of what is "a very serious situation."

Detailing the three direct hits that occurred on April 7, Grossi said one of the strikes hit the reactor dome of Unit 6. The damage it caused had not compromised nuclear safety, he said. But strikes on the plant's primary containment structure represent "a step-change increase in risk to nuclear safety."

The other two attacks were in close proximity to the main reactor buildings and resulted in at least one casualty, he said.

A further drone attack and bursts of rifle fire were reported on April 9, Grossi added, saying this was "an ominous indication of an apparent readiness to continue these attacks, despite the grave dangers they pose to nuclear safety and security," and repeated his call for the strikes to end.

Memoir Navalny Wrote Before Death To Be Published In October

Aleksei Navalny (pictured with Yulia Navalnaya) began writing the memoir in 2020 while convalescing in Berlin after being poisoned.
Aleksei Navalny (pictured with Yulia Navalnaya) began writing the memoir in 2020 while convalescing in Berlin after being poisoned.

Aleksei Navalny, the late Russian anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader, began writing a memoir four years ago that will go on sale later this year in what his publisher says is his "final letter to the world."

Navalny, 47, died on February 16 in unclear circumstances in an Arctic prison where he was serving a 19-year term on extremism and other charges widely seen as politically motivated.

His publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said on April 11 that the memoir, which the Kremlin critic began writing in 2020 while convalescing in Germany after being poisoned, would be available from October 22.

Knopf said that Navalny continued work on the book from prison after he returned to Russia in January 2021, when he was immediately arrested at the airport.

Navalny's widow, Yulia, said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that the book will be released in several languages, including Russian.

"This is not at all how I imagined Aleksei would write his biography. I thought that we would be about 80 years old, he would sit at the computer by the open window and type. And I would walk around and grumble that the grandchildren will arrive soon, and he is doing nonsense," she said.

"Sharing his story will not only honor his memory but also inspire other to stand up for what is right and to never lose sight of the values that truly matter," she added.

Navalnaya, who is now living outside Russia, vowed to continue her late husband's fight for "a wonderful Russia of the future" after the outspoken Kremlin critic died on February 16 in one of Russia's most notorious prisons in the Arctic.

Navalnaya and her husband's associates, along with several Western governments, have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Kremlin critic's death.

The Kremlin has denied any role or responsibility in Navalny's death.

Belarusian Accused Of Insulting Lukashenka Dies Awaiting Trial

Alyaksandr Kulinich died two days before his 52nd birthday.
Alyaksandr Kulinich died two days before his 52nd birthday.

A Belarusian man accused of insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has died in a pretrial detention center in the city of Brest, just days before his trial was to begin.

The Vyasna human rights group said in a statement on April 11 that Alyaksandr Kulinich died two days earlier, with sources telling it the official cause of death was listed as coronary disease. He died two days before what would have been his 52nd birthday, Vyasna added.

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The cause of death has not been independently verified. Local media reported that Kulinich's family has already taken custody of the body, but gave no further details.

"Vitold Ashurak, Mikalai Klimovich, Ales Pushkin, Vadzim Khrasko, Ihar Lednik, and now Alyaksandr Kulinich have all died in Belarusian prisons for opposing the regime. For many political prisoners held incommunicado in Belarus, it is unknown whether they are dead or alive," opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on X, formerly Twitter.

Kulinich was taken into custody on February 29 and held since then in pretrial detention center No. 7 in Brest, near Belarus's western border with Poland, Vyasna said.

Details of the case against Kulinich were not made public.

Thousands of Belarusians have been detained or imprisoned since wide-scale protests in 2020 against presidential election results that gave Lukashenka a sixth term in office despite extensive evidence of fraud.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.

Lukashenka, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994, has refused to negotiate with the opposition, and many of its leaders -- including Tsikhanouskaya -- have been arrested or forced to leave the country.

Ambassador Warns Georgia 'Foreign Agents' Bill 'Incompatible' With EU Values

People march through the capital, Tbilisi, against the reintroduction of the "foreign agents" bill on April 9.
People march through the capital, Tbilisi, against the reintroduction of the "foreign agents" bill on April 9.

The European Union's ambassador to Georgia has criticized the reintroduction of a "foreign agents" bill in parliament -- legislation compared with a similar law in Russia that the Kremlin has used to stifle dissent -- saying it's "incompatible" with the values of the bloc Tbilisi is looking to join.

The ruling party in EU-candidate Georgia last week said it planned to reintroduce a bill that would oblige noncommercial organizations and media outlets that receive foreign funding and are engaged in broadly defined "political" activities to report their activities to the authorities.

The legislation, which sparked mass protests when first introduced last year, causing the government to withdraw the bill, would also introduce wide oversight powers by the authorities and potential criminal sanctions for undefined criminal offenses.

"We are seriously concerned. These are legitimate concerns about transparency, which should not be used to justify the restriction of space and the stigmatization of civil society organizations," Pawel Herczynski said in remarks to the media at a meeting of civil society organizations.

"This bill, as it is now, is incompatible with European norms and European values, and especially in today's context, it will be very difficult for the European Commission to make a positive assessment of the adoption of the law...This law is simply not good."

The ruling Georgian Dream party announced on April 3 that it intended to reintroduce the law in parliament a year after large-scale protests forced the party to abandon its first attempt to pass the law last year.

This year's bill would be identical to last year's, they said, except for one change: the term "foreign agent" would be replaced by the more circumlocutious "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power."

The party insists the bill is simply copied and pasted from U.S. legislation and does not imitate Russia's "foreign agent" law, but the newly resurrected On Transparency of Foreign Influence bill is, more than anything, a product of Georgia's homegrown struggle for political power.

And its return bodes yet another bout of internal political strife, sharper pressure on the government's opponents, and yet more stress on Tbilisi's increasingly fragile relations with its Western partners.

Georgians March Against Russian-Style 'Foreign Agents' Law
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On April 5, Washington expressed its "deep concern" over the legislation, saying the draft legislation "poses a threat to civil society organizations."

Herczynski said the bloc was in "constant contact" with the Georgian government as it looks to make strides toward eventual membership in the 27-member bloc.

But, he added, "time is running out" even though "all the ingredients are there to make progress" with reforms as Georgia looks to move to the next stage and open accession negotiations.

"These are legitimate concerns about transparency, which should not be used to justify the restriction of space and the stigmatization of civil society organizations," Herczynski said.

"Freedom of speech and media is absolutely necessary for every democracy, including Georgia, especially for a country that is a candidate for EU membership."

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