Bolshoi Theater Drops Ballet About Life Of Nureyev From Repertoire Over 'Gay Propaganda' Law
The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow has dropped a ballet about Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev from its repertoire after a law on so-called "gay propaganda" was tightened.

The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow has dropped a ballet about Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev from its repertoire after a law on so-called "gay propaganda" was tightened.

Bolshoi director Vladimir Urin announced on April 19 that the ballet Nureyev would no longer be performed at the Bolshoi. He linked the decision to the toughening of the law, saying some scenes in the ballet could be regarded as LGBT propaganda.

Amendments to the 2013 "gay propaganda" law approved in December widened a ban on "the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." Russian authorities said the amendments were needed to help defend morality. Human rights groups and LGBT community advocates have widely criticized the law.

In comments carried by Russian news agencies, Urin said the Bolshoi removed Nureyev from its repertoire as soon as President Vladimir Putin signed the amendments into law on December 5. There was no explanation about why the move was only formally announced on April 19.

Nureyev, one of the first Soviet artists to defect to the West, died from an AIDS-related illness in 1993 at the age of 54. The dancer was a sensation in the Soviet Union at the time of his defection in 1961.

The ballet, based on his life, had a history of difficulties dating back to its premiere in 2017. Its use of nudity and profane language and its frank treatment of Nureyev's same-sex relationships outraged Russian conservatives.

The Bolshoi abruptly canceled its premiere in July 2017 after its director, Kirill Serebrennikov, was detained in a criminal inquiry involving arts funding.

Serebrennikov, one of Russia's most innovative and successful directors, was later found guilty of embezzling funds at Moscow's Gogol Center theater. His supporters said the conviction was revenge for his criticism of authoritarianism and homophobia under Putin.

Serebrennikov and his supporters also said the case against him was part of a politically motivated crackdown on Russia's arts community ahead of presidential elections the following year.

Serebrennikov left Russia last year within months of Russia’s launch of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He said at the time that the theater had been informed that Nureyev would no longer be performed, but it remained in the repertoire.

The United States is sending Ukraine about $325 million in additional military aid, including an enormous amount of artillery rounds and ammunition, the Pentagon said on April 19.

The aid resembles other recent weapons packages that sent Ukraine rockets for howitzers and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that the Pentagon says Ukraine has used effectively, as well as an array of other missiles and antitank ammunition.

"This security assistance package includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS and artillery rounds, as well as anti-armor systems, small arms, logistics support vehicles, and maintenance support essential to strengthening Ukraine’s defenders on the battlefield," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The package also includes 9 million rounds of small-arms ammunition, a State Department spokesperson said, according to Reuters.

The package is the 36th drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine and brings total aid since Russia launched its invasion to more than $35.4 billion, according to the U.S. State Department.

"Russia could end its war today. Until Russia does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes," Blinken added.

The HIMARS are truck-mounted systems that can fire guided missiles in quick succession. The missiles that the Pentagon is supplying for the systems have a range of up to 80 kilometers.

The supplies included in the package will all be pulled from Pentagon inventories, meaning they can go quickly to the front line as Ukraine prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces.

The United States will continue to stand with Ukraine in response to Russia’s "war of aggression," Blinken said. "This new security assistance will enable Ukraine to continue to bravely defend itself in the face of Russia’s brutal, unprovoked and unjustified war."

Iran's Ministry of Guidance is demanding the removal of the names of the director and one of the lead actors from a promotional billboard for a movie amid their public support for ongoing nationwide protests over the government's treatment of women and the lack of freedoms and rights in the country.

Actor Mohsen Tanabandeh and film distributor Mohammad Shayesteh took to Instagram to criticize the ministry's pressure campaign to remove Tanabandeh's photo and the name of the film's director, Homan Seyyedi, from promotional billboards for the movie World War III.

Shayesteh expressed his frustration with the situation in an Instagram post on April 19 saying the ministry initially demanded the removal of Seyyedi's name in exchange for granting a billboard permit.

After complying with the request, the advertising company was then instructed to remove Tanabandeh's photo, leaving only an image of a house on the billboard. Shayesteh sarcastically remarked that it now appeared as if they were advertising real estate instead of a film.

The ministry has yet to comment publicly on the issue.

Tanabandeh, who has expressed support for protesters following the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody in September, reposted Shayesteh's post, criticizing the ministry's policies.

Tanabandeh had previously written in a post following the execution of Iranian protester Mohsen Shekari: "It's an honor to share your name, dear Mohsen."

Shekari was executed after an appeal against his death sentence on a charge of injuring a security officer was rejected by the Supreme Court. Human rights groups said Shekari's sentence was based on a coerced confession after a grossly unfair process and a "sham" trial.

Seyyedi, the director of World War III, has dedicated his Instagram profile picture to Kian Pirfalk, a 9-year-old child killed in recent protests in the city of Izeh.

Seyyedi had previously posted a picture of himself with former President Hassan Rohani with the caption: "This disgrace will never be cleansed from me. I am disgusted with myself for naively taking [what I thought was] a step toward a better tomorrow."

Iran's Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance has taken a hard-line stance against protesting artists, repeatedly threatening them with a work ban because of their support for the demonstrators rallying in support of human rights after the death of the 22-year-old Amini, who was being detained for an alleged violation of the country's head scarf law when she died.

The film World War III has been selected as Iran's submission for the 2023 Oscars, and screenings have already begun in Iranian cinemas.

The movie first premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival in September 2022, before the protests began. It won two awards in the Orizzonti section, including Best Film for Seyyedi and Best Actor for Tanabandeh.

The United States has imposed sanctions on a network of companies and suppliers -- mostly based in China -- that the Treasury Department says support Iranian drone manufacturing.

The fresh sanctions announced on April 19 are aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran to stop supplying drones to Russia, which has used them throughout its war in Ukraine, including for attacks on critical infrastructure supplying electricity and water to Ukrainian citizens.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement that the additional sanctions target one individual -- Iranian national Mehdi Khoshghadam, who is managing director of Pardazan System Namad Arman (PASNA) -- and six entities. PASNA itself has already been designated for sanctions by the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

As the head of PASNA, Khoshghadam is “responsible for the company’s sanctions evasion efforts,” the Treasury said, adding that he has “sought a variety of electronic components from foreign suppliers primarily based in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”

OFAC said it added to its list of designated entities four Chinese suppliers -- Jotrin Electronics, Arttronix International, Vohom Technology, and Yinke Electronics. The latter three are based in Hong Kong.

The front companies in Iran added to the sanctions list are named as Amv AJ Nilgoun Bushehr and PASNA International. OFAC said Khoshghadam has had dealings with all four Chinese suppliers and has used AMV AJ to procure electronic goods for PASNA, including electrical components and connectors, while PASNA International is a Malaysia-based front company that has procured encoder boards, copiers, transmitters, remote controls, optical components, and various crystals.

"The network sanctioned today has procured goods and technology for the Iranian government and its defense industry and [drone] program," said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

"Treasury will continue to enforce its sanctions against Iran’s military procurement efforts that contribute to regional insecurity and global instability," Nelson said in the statement.

The sanctions freeze any assets that Khoshghadam and the entities hold in U.S. jurisdictions and bar U.S. companies and individuals from any dealings with them.

Azerbaijani media say 20 people allegedly affiliated with Iran's Intelligence Ministry were arrested on April 19 as relations between the two countries fray.

According to the official APA news agency, the individuals detained were involved in promoting “the Islamic Republic's propaganda, spreading religious superstitions, attempting to overthrow the secular government of Baku, and engaging in drug trafficking,” all under the guise of religious activities.

The news agency published photographs of the arrested individuals, some of whom were clerics who had studied at the Qom Seminary in Iran, alongside the Islamic republic's religious propaganda flags.

The arrests are the latest in a series of detentions of people who the Azerbaijani government says are working for Iran.

Relations between Tehran and Baku has become increasingly strained in recent months, particularly after an armed attack on Baku's embassy in Tehran.

Baku ordered the evacuation of staff and family members from its embassy in Iran on January 29, two days after a gunman shot dead a security guard and wounded two other people at the facility in an attack Baku said was an "act of terrorism."

Tensions were further heightened following a failed assassination attempt in Baku on an Azerbaijani parliamentarian who has been critical of Iran.

In response to the assassination attempt on Fazil Mustafa, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament, authorities arrested four individuals on charges related to the armed attack and accused the Islamic republic of orchestrating the assassination plot.

Azerbaijan has also accused Iran of backing Armenia in a long-standing conflict over Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Iran has long accused Azerbaijan of fueling separatist sentiments among its sizeable ethnic Azeri minority.

A court in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg has ordered two months of detention for a local activist who was interviewed by Evan Gershkovich and helped the jailed Wall Street Journal reporter before the American journalist was arrested on espionage charges.

The Verkh-Isetsy district court ruled at a closed-door session on April 19 that Yaroslav Shirshikov must stay in pretrial detention until at least June 17 as the case is investigated.

Shirshikov was detained and charged with "justification of terrorism" after police searched his home on April 18.

The charge against the activist stems from his recent post on Telegram in which he called Vladlen Tatarsky, the pen name of prominent pro-Kremlin blogger Maksim Fomin who was killed in an apparent assassination in St. Petersburg in early April, "a thug."

Tatarsky was known for his support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and support for Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region. Shirshikov wrote on his post that he did not feel sorry about his death.

In his recent interview with Gershkovich, Shirshikov talked about the attitude in Russian society toward the notorious Wagner mercenary group, a private company that has been at the forefront of fighting in Ukraine.

Gershkovich had been reporting on Russia for more than five years at the time of his arrest. He is a fluent Russian-speaker, the son of emigres who left the Soviet Union for the United States during the Cold War.

Shirshikov broke the news about Gershkovich's detention in Yekaterinburg in late March.

Hours before Shirshikov was detained on April 18, the Moscow District Court rejected Gershkovich's appeal to be released from pretrial detention.

The 31-year-old American, The Wall Street Journal, and the United States government have all denied that the fully-accredited journalist was involved in espionage.

If convicted, Shirshikov, a professional public relations expert, may face up to seven years in prison.

In July last year, Shirshikov was fined for openly criticizing the war in Ukraine

Russian lawyer Vadim Prokhorov, who has defended noted opposition figures such as jailed politicians Vladimir Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin, as well as the late Boris Nemtsov, has fled Russia fearing for his safety. Prokhorov told Voice of America in Washington, D.C. in an interview on April 18 that he left Russia days before a court in Moscow sentenced Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison. Prokhorov added that a Russian politician had tipped him off about a probe against him on unspecified charges planned by prosecutors. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

The European Commission has proposed measures for wheat, maize, sunflower seed, and rape seed from Ukraine after a joint complaint from five EU countries -- Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia -- over a drop in prices on local markets because of the influx from Ukraine.

The five countries became transit routes for Ukrainian grains that could not be exported by sea because of Russia's invasion, but delays in moving the grains have caused a glut of cheap imports, prompting complaints from farmers and bans on the grains by some countries.

The situation forced the European Union to seek a solution, and on April 19 European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis discussed the measures with ministers from the five countries as well as with their Ukrainian counterpart, the European Commission said in a news release.

An EU official quoted by Reuters said the proposal would only allow the grains to enter the five countries from Ukraine if they were to be exported to other EU members or to the rest of the world. The measure would last only until the end of June.

Romanian Agriculture Minister Petre Daea ​told Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskiy that ​Romania will implement additional security measures for goods transiting Romania's territory to third countries.

The European Commission has proposed that the commodities be either sealed or monitored by the Global Positioning System (GPS) to ensure that they are not opened during transit and therefore should not affect the markets in the states they pass through.

The commission's proposal, which also includes a second tranche of agricultural financial support, is subject to the countries lifting unilateral measures, the commission said.

Separately, the European Commission plans an investigation into whether measures are required for other sensitive agricultural products.

Bulgaria announced earlier on April 19 that it will temporarily ban the import of grain, milk, meat, and other food products from Ukraine, following steps taken by Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.

The ban, announced by Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev and Economy Minister Nikola Stoyanov at a news conference in Sofia, will come into effect on April 24 and will last until June 30.

The ban will affect nearly 20 types of Ukrainian produce, including wheat, wheat flour, sunflower seeds, honey, raw and dry milk, eggs, poultry, pork, mutton, lamb and goat meat, wine, and ethylic alcohol among others.

The transit of goods from Ukraine intended for third countries through the territory of Bulgaria is still permitted, the two ministers announced.

Hungary also made an announcement on April 19 on Ukrainian agricultural products, saying it is widening its ban to include honey, wine, bread, sugar, and a range of meat and vegetable products.

The list of items to be banned was announced in a government decree after Budapest previously announced a ban on imports of grain, oilseeds, and several other products in step with Poland and Slovakia.

The International Investment Bank (IIB) says it will leave its headquarters in Budapest and return to Russia after the Hungarian government withdrew its representatives from the Moscow-led institution after the United States imposed sanctions on three IIB officials.

"Due to the de-facto termination of Hungary's membership in International Investment Bank, IIB has exhausted basis for further operations from its headquarters in Budapest and in the European Union," the IIB said in a statement on its website on April 19.

"The Bank has commenced a relocation of its operations and functions of its headquarters from Hungary to Russia," it added.

On April 12, the United States imposed sanctions on more than 100 people and entities in a move aimed at further curbing Russia’s access to the international financial system through facilitators and their businesses.

The sanctions, announced by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), were aimed at taking "action against Russia and those supporting its war in Ukraine," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

OFAC said the sanctions included on Russian financial facilitators and sanctions evaders in Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates, and China.

The Hungarian individuals designated by the United States are three executives of the IIB: its president, Nyikolay Koszov; IIB Vice-President Imre Laszlóczki; and Georgij Potapov, the deputy chairman of the board of governors of the institution.

Prior to the sanctions, Washington had been critical of Budapest for not banning Russian diplomats, who were said to move around in Hungary in large numbers, partly thanks to the presence of the IIB.

ASTANA -- Kazakh Energy Minister Almasadam Satqaliev has warned citizens of the oil-rich country of an expected increase of liquefied gas prices in the coming months as the government looks to avoid a repeat of deadly mass protests that took place in January 2022 after an energy price hike.

Satqaliev told journalists after a government meeting on April 19 that the increase is part of a policy to allow liquified gas prices to gradually "reach their market price."

A sharp, unannounced increase of liquified gas prices in December 2021 led to unprecedented anti-government protests a month later that turned into mass unrest, leaving at least 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, dead.

"Liquefied gas is being sold in our country for 50 tenges ($0.11) per liter while its market price should be 70 tenges per liter. Involved companies are losing money. To compare, in Russia the price is twice as much as in Kazakhstan.... That's because prices there have been regulated by the market," Satqaliev said.

Shortly before Satqaliev's statement, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev justified a recent increase of gasoline and diesel fuel prices in the country by citing a general increase in global market prices.

In recent weeks, several protests against the fuel price hikes took place across some regions in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

Almaty-based political analyst Dosym Satpaev told RFE/RL that the situation with the increase of fuel prices may turn into a bigger social problem in the country as it coincides with a new wave of protests by oil workers in the restive southwestern town of Zhanaozen.

It was protests in Zhanaozen in December 2021 that turned into nationwide anti-government protests.

Satpaev emphasized that since obtaining independence in 1991, Kazakh authorities had fully liquidated independent unions who could play a mediating role between workers and employers or officials, which led to the situation where workers have no other choice than demonstrating.

Russia's state-owned Promsvyazbank on April 19 said it was opening more branches in the four regions of Ukraine that Moscow claimed to have annexed last year, as Russia aims to provide civilians and soldiers with cheap credit and banking services. Promsvyazbank offers a range of services but has focused on state employees and the defense sector since it was bailed out by the central bank in 2017. The bank has already bought credit institutions in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

The Moscow City Court has rejected an appeal filed by lawyers for jailed opposition politician Ilya Yashin against an 8 1/2-year prison sentence handed to him in December on a charge of spreading false information about the Russian military amid the invasion of Ukraine.

Yashin took part in the April 19 hearing by video link from a detention center in Moscow after the court rejected his request to be physically present for the session.

"I fully understand that the only way for me to get my sentence mitigated is to repent, beg for mercy, call black as white, and also to testify against one of my friends. That will never happen," a defiant Yashin said in a statement to the court, adding that his conscience was "clean," and that he calmly accepted his fate.

Yashin, 39, is an outspoken Kremlin critic and one of the few prominent opposition politicians who stayed in Russia after a wave of repression against supporters of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and those who have spoken against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it was launched in February 2022.

The sentence was the harshest handed down in cases of those charged with discrediting Russia's armed forces since a new law was introduced days after the invasion commenced.

The criminal case against Yashin was launched in July. The charge against him stems from his YouTube posts about alleged war crimes committed by the Russian military in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

The outspoken Kremlin opponent has been arrested many times in the past for his protest activities.

Yashin said earlier that the authorities were trying to force him to leave Russia, which he refused to do.

As the Russian military was forced to hastily leave Bucha and Irpin, another town on the outskirts of Kyiv, after a failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital in March 2022, images of the dead bodies scattered around the streets of Bucha circulated around the world, sparking a wave of shock and condemnation.

Russia has denied committing the massacres, and claimed that the deaths were "staged" by Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials estimate that about 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha and a total of more than 1,000 throughout the region around Kyiv.

TASHKENT -- Early voting has started in Uzbekistan in a referendum on a new constitution that would allow 65-year-old President Shavkat Mirziyoev to run again and opens the way for him to retain power until 2040.

The Central Election Commission said early voting for those who will be unable to take part in the referendum on April 30 started on April 19 and will run until April 26.

The amendments changing the constitution, initiated by Mirziyoev last year and approved by lawmakers in March, are expected to be backed by a majority of voters in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, which, according to Uzbek officials, will "nullify" Mirziyoev's previous and current terms, allowing him to run for another two consecutive terms.

The amendments also extend the duration of a presidential term to seven years from five years. Mirziyoev's current term ends in 2026. According to Uzbek lawmakers, the amendments will change about two-thirds of the constitution, with the number of articles in the document rising to 155 from 128.

The draft also declares Uzbekistan will be "a social state" while almost tripling the state's obligations to citizens.

The proposed amendments originally included abolishing the country's Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic's right to secede.

However, Mirziyoev dropped the idea to change Karakalpakstan's status after thousands of Karakalpaks protested in early July 2022 against the elimination of the region's long-standing right to seek independence from Uzbekistan.

Uzbek authorities say 21 people died in Karakalpakstan when the protests were dispersed by security forces. Dozens of participants in the rallies were later handed prison terms on charges of plotting to seize power by disrupting the constitutional order, organizing mass unrest, embezzlement, and money laundering.

The referendum is the third referendum in the history of independent Uzbekistan.

Mirziyoev's predecessor, authoritarian first President Islam Karimov, who died in 2016, held two referendums in 1995 and 2002 that allowed him to prolong his reign without elections. The length of presidential terms was also changed.

Moldova has expelled an employee of the Russian Embassy over “inappropriate behavior” earlier this week at the airport in Chisinau after Moldova barred a Russian delegation from entering the country.

Moldova on April 19 summoned Russian Ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov to the Foreign Ministry to be informed that the employee was being expelled.

Vasnetsov was summoned after a government meeting in which Prime Minister Dorin Recean asked the authorities to consider withdrawing the airport access cards of two Russian Embassy employees and declaring one of them persona non grata.

Moldovan government spokesman Daniel Voda said the two employees of the embassy behaved “inappropriately” at the Chisinau airport after Moldova barred entry to a Russian delegation led by Tatarstan's leader Rustam Minnikhanov. The delegation landed in Chisinau on April 17 to bolster support for the pro-Moscow leader of an autonomous Moldovan territory.

"The prime minister highlighted that inappropriate behavior on the part of foreign officials in relation to our authorities is not tolerated," Voda said without describing the behavior or explaining why only one of the two was expelled.

Voda said Moldovan border police "did their job well and explained very clearly to the people who were not allowed access to the country's territory the legal reasons that were the basis of this decision."

Vasnetsov said he had not received answers to why the embassy employee was being kicked out and why Minnikhanov had been barred.

"We consider these actions to be unfriendly steps toward our country," he told reporters.

After barring the delegation led by Minnikhanov, Moldova told Russian politicians not to meddle in its internal affairs.

Moldovan police said in a statement on April 17 that the delegation aimed to bolster support for a pro-Russian candidate for the leadership of the semiautonomous Gagauzia region in an April 30 election. Moldova has accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country, which Moscow denies.

Hungary's government has widened its temporary ban on the imports of Ukrainian agricultural products to include honey, wine, bread, sugar, and a range of meat and vegetable products. The list of items to be banned were revealed in a government decree, after Budapest announced a measure to halt imports of grain, oilseeds, and several other products. In recent days, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia banned the import of grain and other food items from war-hit Ukraine after a slump in prices triggered protests from local farmers. Bulgaria is expected to make a similar announcement later on April 19.

What appeared to be complaints by Russian soldiers and their relatives about Moscow's invasion of Ukraine appeared on several large electronic billboards in the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, and Ulyanovsk on April 18. The texts included statements about inexperienced soldiers being sent to battle "like cannon fodder" without proper training, and "large human losses" in the ongoing war. Authorities in Yekaterinburg said the texts appeared after unknown individuals had hacked into the advertising system. Officials in the two other cities have yet to comment publicly. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

A court in Russia's southwestern Astrakhan region has sentenced three Jehovah's Witnesses to seven years in prison each amid a crackdown on the religious group. The Akhtuba district court on April 18 found Sergei Korolyov, Rinat Kiramov, and Sergei Kosyanenko guilty of organizing and financing an extremist group. All three men pleaded not guilty. Russia banned the Jehovah's Witnesses in 2017 and declared the group an extremist organization. Rights watchdogs and Western governments have condemned Russia's crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Idel.Realities, click here.

Ukraine on April 19 said that it has received its first Patriot air-defense systems as Russia launched a fresh wave of drone attacks on the southern port city of Odesa and Ukrainian defenders repelled more attacks in the eastern region of Donetsk, where a protracted battle for the city of Bakhmut has been under way for months.

"Today, our beautiful Ukrainian skies have become more secure because Patriot air-defense systems have arrived in Ukraine," Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov wrote on Twitter.

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

Reznikov wrote that the Ukrainian air-defense forces have trained to master the complexities of the Patriot systems "as quickly as they could" and thanked the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands for having "kept their word" on delivering the system.

"We will win together," Reznikov said, without specifying which country the systems had come from.

However, Germany on April 18 listed the Patriot system on a government website that records Berlin's deliveries of military equipment to Ukraine.

The mobile surface-to-air Patriot system is one of the most advanced in the world and can be used against aircraft, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles.

The United States and Germany pledged Patriot systems to Ukraine following waves of Russian strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure that began in October.

The Netherlands promised Kyiv parts of a Patriot system, including two launchers and missiles.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said Patriot will "significantly" beef up Ukraine's air defense.

An additional $325 million in U.S. military aid announced on April 19 also will help. The package will send rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that the Pentagon says Ukraine has used effectively on the battlefield, as well as an array of other missiles, small-arms ammunition, and antitank ammunition.

The supplies will be pulled from Pentagon inventories, meaning they can go quickly to the front line as Ukraine prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Counteroffensive actions by Ukrainian troops are already taking place in eastern Ukraine, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said. The dates of counteroffensive actions will not be announced, Malyar said, but certain actions already are under way in areas around Lyman, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka.

The announcement of the arrival of Patriot systems came after Russia attacked the southern port city of Odesa with Iranian-made drones overnight.

"This time, 10 out of 12 Shahed kamikaze drones were destroyed by the members of the Odesa antiaircraft missile brigade of the Southern Air Command," the military said in a statement.

Yuriy Kruk, the head of the military administration in the Odesa region, said a public infrastructure target was hit during the drone attack, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

In the east, Ukrainian defenders repelled more than 60 attacks as Russian troops continue their assault on Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka, Ukraine's General Staff said in its daily report on April 19.

The fiercest battles are fought for Bakhmut and Maryinka, which remain the epicenter of hostilities, the military said.

The months of fighting for Bakhmut in particular has turned into one of the bloodiest battles of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with both sides reportedly suffering heavy casualties.

The Ukrainian military said April 19 that it had taken delivery of France's light AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, which were "already in service."

Ahead of a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which consists of dozens of countries that provide military aid to Kyiv, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called for more arms and ammunition to be sent to Ukraine.

"We recognize the enormous amount of weapons, ammunitions, supplies that have already been provided to Ukraine, but we need to do even more," Stoltenberg told CNN on April 18.

"Because we need to ensure that Ukrainians are in a position where they can punch through the Russian lines and also across minefields and be in a position where they can liberate, take back territory," he said.

The Contact Group is due to meet again on April 21 at the U.S. air base in Rammstein, Germany.

Inspections of vessels carrying grain from Ukrainian ports have resumed at Turkey's Bosphorus Strait after two days of discussions between Kyiv and Moscow, a spokesperson for the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul said on April 19. The sides have agreed on new vessels to take part in the initiative and "inspections teams are already at work," Ismini Palla said. Moscow earlier accused Ukraine and the United Nations of causing difficulties with ship inspections and the registration of new vessels. Ukraine said this week the grain deal was at risk of being shut down. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

The United States and its NATO allies must remain alert for signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use a tactical nuclear weapon in a "managed" escalation of his war in Ukraine, a U.S. diplomat said on April 18. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman issued the warning during an annual NATO arms-control conference in Washington. "We have all watched and worried that Vladimir Putin would use what he considers a nonstrategic tactical nuclear weapon or use some demonstration effect to escalate, but in a managed-risk escalation," Sherman said. "It is very critical to remain watchful of this."

A federal grand jury in the U.S. state of Florida has indicted four U.S. citizens and three Russian nationals over allegations that they took part in a “malign campaign” to influence U.S. voters.

The U.S. Justice Department announced the indictment on April 18, saying the seven individuals had worked in conjunction with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to conduct the campaign, which among other things attempted to create the appearance of American popular support for Russia's annexation of territories in Ukraine and other Russian propaganda.

The indictment alleges that the Russian defendants recruited, funded, and directed U.S. political groups to act as agents of the Russian government and "sow discord and spread pro-Russian propaganda."

The indictment adds charges to Moscow resident Aleksandr Ionov, who was charged in July with orchestrating an election interference campaign using political groups in Florida, Georgia, and California. He has called the charge "nonsense." The indictment released on April 18 also names FSB officers Aleksei Sukhodolov and Yegor Popov.

Ionov founded and served as president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), an organization headquartered in Moscow and funded by the Russian government. He allegedly used AGMR to carry out Russia's malign influence campaign under the direction and supervision of Moscow-based FSB officers Sukhodolov and Popov.

Ionov allegedly recruited members of political groups within the United States to participate in the influence campaign and "act as agents of Russia in the United States."

The groups included the African People's Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement (collectively known as the APSP) in Florida, Black Hammer in the U.S. state of Georgia, and a political group in California identified only as U.S. Political Group 3.

The U.S. residents indicted along with the Russians are Omali Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, and Jesse Nevel. All three live in St. Petersburg and in St. Louis, Missouri, and serve as officers in APSP.

The fourth American, Augustus C. Romain Jr., also known as Gazi Kodzo Romain, resides in St. Petersburg and Atlanta and is the founder of Black Hammer.

Additionally, a separate case in Washington charged Russian national Natalia Burlinova "with conspiring with an FSB officer to act as an illegal agent of Russia in the United States." Burlinova, a resident of Moscow, conspired with an FSB officer to recruit U.S. citizens from academic and research institutions to travel to Russia to participate in a public diplomacy program called Meeting Russia.

The Justice Department said Ionov on February 24, 2022 -- the day Russia invaded Ukraine -- allegedly emailed Nevel an urgent message containing pro-Russian talking points in support of the invasion.

Ionov in May 2020 allegedly sent a request to Yeshitela and members of other U.S. political groups urging them to make statements in support of the independence of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, an area in eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists.

"Thereafter, throughout March 2022, the APSP repeatedly hosted Ionov via video conference to discuss the war, during which Ionov falsely stated that anyone who supported Ukraine also supported Naziism and white supremacy, and Yeshitela and another APSP member allegedly made statements of solidarity with the Russian government,” the department said.

Poland has begun building a state-of-the-art electronic barrier at its land border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave to monitor and counteract any illegal activity, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said on April 18. The barrier, which will be equipped with 24-hour monitoring cameras and motion detectors, will run for 210 kilometers and is due to be completed in the fall. The EU member country last year built a wall on its border with Belarus to stop an influx of migrants that Warsaw said was organized by Belarus and Russia to destabilize Poland and the rest of the EU. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Poland has reached an agreement on restarting transit of Ukrainian grains through its territory as of April 21, Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said on April 18, adding transit would be monitored and sealed. But a ban on imports of Ukrainian food products to Poland will remain in place. Pressure has been mounting on Brussels to work out a European Union-wide solution after Warsaw and Budapest announced bans on some imports from Ukraine. Farmers say cheap imports from Ukraine, which has faced difficulties exporting by sea due to Russia's invasion, have lowered prices and reduced their sales. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

The European Parliament on April 18 approved a decision on visa liberalization that will allow citizens of Kosovo to travel to most European countries without a visa by January 2024 at the latest.

The vote by the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, was the last legal hurdle to granting visa-free travel in the 26-country Schengen area to Kosovar citizens after member states gave their backing in March.

Under the new rules, people who hold a Kosovo passport will be able to travel to and within the Schengen zone, which includes 22 EU member states and the non-EU countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, for up to 90 days within a 180-day period.

"Visa liberalization is now a reality," Kosovo's government said in a statement, while Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani said on Twitter that the decision "is a victory for the people of Kosovo, for democracy and for European unity."

In a separate message on Facebook, she said, "This decision is due to the people of Kosovo, the unprecedented determination shown over the years, despite various delays and injustices."

A signing ceremony will take place on April 19 featuring representatives of the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers -- two institutions that were instrumental in the approval of the abolition of the visa regime for Kosovo.

The visa exemption will enter force parallel with the implementation of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) but no later than January 1, 2024.

When the decision was agreed by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers in December, it was thought the ETIAS system would be operational on November 1, 2023, but its implementation has been delayed.

Kosovo is the last country in the Western Balkans to be granted visa-free travel to the Schengen zone. It joins other countries in the region whose citizens have enjoyed freedom of movement for years.

Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia have not had visa requirements since December 2009, and Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina joined Schengen in December 2010.

The European Commission in 2018 recommended the abolition of the visa regime with Kosovo, but the political decision was held up by some EU member states.

Visa liberalization for Kosovo was revived after Russia's invasion of Ukraine when the EU took several positive steps toward the region to try to reduce Russia's influence.

Several Iranian cities have seen a new wave of suspicious illnesses mainly at girls schools sparked by what some have called poisonings, reigniting fears among families after a similar outbreak saw hundreds of students taken to the hospital.

Reports on social media on April 18 noted a surge in illnesses in the cities of Sanandaj, Saqqez, Bukan, Divandarreh, Urmia, Tabriz, Dezful, and Mahdasht Karaj, with several students needing to be hospitalized. That comes after reports in recent days of new illnesses seen in Tehran, Islamshahr, Karaj, Ardabil, Urmia, Qazvin, Babolsar, Hersin, and Shiraz.

Earlier this year, hundreds of students, mainly girls, were hospitalized after complaining of symptoms that included nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, numbness, and hand or leg pain. It remains unclear what might be causing the illnesses, though some of those affected have said they smelled chlorine or cleaning agents, while others said they thought they smelled tangerines in the air.

No one has claimed responsibility for the wave of illnesses that some officials -- including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- have characterized as poisonings.

An unspecified number of arrests had been made in five provinces in connection with the incidents, but few details have been made public.

The lack of clarity over the situation has prompted some to say the suspected poisonings are intentional and a scare tactic being used to intimidate females who have protested over the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a hijab, or head scarf, improperly.

The Telegram channel 1500 Tasvir reported that laboratory samples of students affected by the new wave of poisonings have been sent out of Iran to relevant experts in the field for testing.

The Iranian Teachers' Union's Coordination Council in Iran reported that worried parents have taken to the streets to demand justice for the students. In response, government forces resorted to beating, threatening, and arresting a number of parents, sparking more fear among students.

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