Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved in the last reading a bill that envisages fines for those violating the country’s controversial law on "foreign agents." According to the bill approved by lawmakers on February 16, failure to attach the "foreign agent" label could lead to fines of up to 2,500 rubles ($34) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,800) for entities. In addition, organizations branded as “foreign agents” and working without being registered as such could face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($68,000).
When Russians took to the streets three times in recent weeks to protest the jailing of Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny, police violently dispersed the crowds and detained more than 11,000 people. But the latest nationwide demonstration, on February 14, provoked hardly any clashes or arrests. That was one of the goals of the Valentine's Day gatherings, which saw residents of numerous cities brave subzero temperatures to hold flashlights in the courtyards of their apartment buildings, silently expressing opposition to President Vladimir Putin's government while showing solidarity with Navalny and other activists swept up in the crackdown. Also watch -- Hundreds Of Women Rally In Russia In Support Of Political Prisoners.
They could be enjoying a peaceful retirement, but instead they're taking to the streets and braving police violence. One Belarusian pensioner says that last year's presidential election was a "slap in the face" for voters because the result was falsified. Another says it was his generation's fault for first bringing Alyaksandr Lukashenka to power in 1994.
Hungary's last remaining independent news radio station has been knocked off the air in Budapest. The country's media authorities refused to extend Klubradio's FM license, saying it "repeatedly infringed" on the compulsory registration law by twice submitting documents late. But Klubradio's director believes it is because the station has often been critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which has been widely accused of suppressing media freedom. The station's director pledged it would continue to operate online.
One day after hundreds protested in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said a probe into former deputy chief of the Customs Service Raimbek Matraimov could be reopened. In its February 15 statement, the UKMK said the criminal case against Matraimov, who was placed on the U.S. Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the illegal funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars abroad, would resume if allegations are confirmed that he has numerous properties in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Russia.
Supporters of the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party took to the streets of the Kosovar capital, Pristina, after polling stations closed on February 14 for the country's early parliamentary elections. Preliminary official results indicated a landslide victory for the leftist-nationalist group led by former Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
Belarus is drafting a “foreign agent” law based on the model of the existing Russian legislation. The bill proposes designating individuals and organizations that receive funding for political activities from abroad as “foreign agents.” It is possible that Belarusian MP’s might consider and adopt the draft bill at the upcoming spring session, which is scheduled to start on April 2, 2021. The Belarusian version of the “foreign agent” law is proposed by the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the House of Representatives Andrei Savinykh and his deputy Aleh Haidukevich. Earlier Haidukevich told Belarusian media that he is “categorically against any intervention, especially funding and receiving any money for political activities. Not a penny should enter the country for these purposes.” (in Russian, Current Time TV/Belarus Service)
Iran and Russia have embarked on a joint naval drill in the northern part of the Indian Ocean that they say has been designed to "enhance the security" of maritime trade in the region, Iranian state media reported. State television said on February 16 that the exercise dubbed Maritime Security Belt will cover an area of about 17,000 square kilometers and include units from the Iranian Navy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Navy, and the Russian Navy. Iranian Rear Admiral Gholamreza Tahani said its purpose was to "enhance the security of international maritime trade, confront maritime piracy and terrorism, and exchange information."
The Kremlin on February 16 dismissed French allegations that hackers linked to Russian intelligence have breached several French organizations as absurd. The assertion by the French government's cybersecurity watchdog, made in a report released February 15, comes amid growing international concerns about cybercrime and espionage allegedly orchestrated by Russian intelligence agencies. The U.S. government is grappling with its largest hack in history, a hack it has blamed on Russian security forces.
Russia has launched an unmanned cargo ship to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Space officials said the Progress MS-16 ship blasted off on time from the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan on February 15. Loaded with food, water, equipment, and other supplies, Progress is scheduled to dock at the orbiting station on February 17. The station currently has seven crew members on board -- from Russia, the United States, and Japan.
Prosecutors have demanded that the Kremlin critic and opposition activist Aleksei Navalny be fined 950,000 rubles ($13,000) for allegedly slandering a World War II veteran. The demand was made in a Moscow court February 16 during the latest proceedings against Navalny, whose allies have called the trial a politically motivated sham. Officials accuse Navalny of defaming a war veteran who took part in a Kremlin-organized promotional video. Navalny mocked the people in the video, calling them "corrupt lackeys and traitors."
Citing statistics and expert estimates, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports that in recent years China has been actively investing in Ukraine -- and is primarily interested in the country's agricultural sector. Ukraine is among the undisputed leaders in the export of agricultural products, ranking second in the world in terms of total grain exports in the last marketing year [July 2019 -- June 2020]. Meanwhile, the largest consumer of food in the world -- and the largest importer of agriculture products -- is China. As a result of its investment, Ukraine now has Chinese farms, grain traders and even ports. However, some experts warn of significant risks associated with Chinese investment, including informational influence, political influence and the influx of Chinese workers. (Ukrainian Service)
Ukraine’s Security Service said its agents have detained a man alleged to be the leader of an intelligence group of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. In a February 16 statement, the security service, known as the SBU, did not identify the man, saying he was from Luhansk, which is part of the territories in eastern Ukraine controlled by separatist groups. The service also said he had taken part in the seizure of the SBU headquarters in Luhansk in 2014 as conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine, and that he was a commander of the separatists' intelligence and sabotage unit who participated in operations against the Ukrainian armed forces.
News reports say a bomb detonated under a car carrying a militia official with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, wounding him. Russian news agencies identified the man as Sergei Popov, leader of a police unit in a separatist-controlled part of the Donetsk region. News organizations linked to the unrecognized regional administration said the explosive device detonated under Popov’s car in the town of Horlivka on February 15, showering him with shrapnel.
Nearly seven years after the Euromaidan protests in the Ukrainian capital reached a bloody climax, the site where protesters clashed with security forces remains a crime scene. There is no police cordon to give away the forensic significance of the vacant lot atop Instytutska Street, but investigators believe it may hold important clues to conclusively establish who gunned down dozens of anti-government demonstrators there on February 20, 2014. The last and deadliest day of the months-long movement, it led to the toppling of Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, who is widely held responsible for his security forces opening fire.
An advocacy group says that homophobic language and hate speech against transgender people is on the rise among European politicians and has warned about a backlash against the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the continent. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said in its annual report published on February 16 that politicians in 17 countries in Europe and Central Asia have verbally attacked LGBT people over the past year.
Ion Mihai Pacepa, a top Romanian intelligence officer who became the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet bloc when he fled Romania and sought asylum in the United States, has reportedly died after being hospitalized with COVID-19. He was 92. Ronald Rychlak, Pacepa’s co-author on a 2013 book about disinformation during the Soviet era, told RFE/RL that Pacepa died on February 14 in a hospital in an undisclosed location in the United States.
The Moscow-based Novaya gazeta newspaper on February 15 published official documents it says prove that many of the people allegedly killed in extrajudicial executions in Chechnya in 2017 had been detained by local police. Novaya gazeta reported in 2017 that 27 detained individuals had been summarily executed in late January that year. Chechen authorities have denied the individuals in question had ever been arrested, while the Investigative Committee rejected Novaya gazeta's request to launch an investigation into the allegations.
German prosecutors say they have charged five Tajik men with being members of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, accusing them of preparing acts of violence in Germany by raising funds and recruiting members for attacks. Federal prosecutors filed the indictment at the Duesseldorf state court on February 15, where an alleged associate of the five, also a Tajik citizen, was handed a 7 year prison sentence. The suspects now charged were identified only as Farhodshoh K., Muhammadali G., Azizjon B., Sunatullokh K., and Komron B., due to German privacy rules. They were arrested last year.
The eldest daughter of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has become one the most visible public figures in the authoritarian Central Asian country, where the president enjoys enormous power. Saida Mirziyoeva, 36, is often seen attending at official meetings, giving speeches, and visiting foreign countries or Uzbekistan's provinces on business trips. The mother of three also frequently joins the rest of the Mirziyoev clan at charity and cultural events. Mirziyoeva's rising profile has led to inevitable comparisons to the country's previous first daughter -- Gulnara Karimova, the once famous and influential daughter of first President Islam Karimov -- who ended up in jail and spent years under house arrest after a major fall from grace.
RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service told the stories of Aidana and Sabinella, repatriated Kazakh jihadists' wives, whose husbands joined the Islamic State militant group and took them to the war zone with their children. When the men were killed, the women stayed behind to save their children. Aidana and Sabinella were finally returned to Kazakhstan about two years ago, as part of Kazakhstan's special operation to repatriate citizens from the Middle East. According to official data, more than 600 Kazakhs were returned to Kazakhstan from Syria. (Kazakh Service)