Russians living near one of the country's largest landfills say they can barely breathe due to gas from the site, which has been growing without restriction for years. Locals hold frequent protests against unchecked dumping, but they say their complaints fall on deaf ears.
Serbian Orthodox bishops have selected Porfirije, Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana, as their 46th patriarch, about three months after the death of Patriarch Irinej from COVID-19. The Holy Synod of Bishops gathered on February 18 at the crypt of Belgrade's Saint Sava Temple in Belgrade and first voted in a secret ballot for three preferred candidates to head the Serbian Orthodox Church. The names were then placed in separate envelopes and withdrawn at random by one of the monks, according to the procedure.
A NASA rover named Perseverance touched down on Mars on February 18, landing in an ancient lake bed named Jezero Crater. Back on Earth, Bosnians in the town of Jezero celebrated their local connection to interplanetary events.
Ukraine is marking the seventh anniversary of the bloody end of the mass street protests that ousted Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych and in which some 100 people were killed, most of them between February 18-20, 2014.
U.S. President Joe Biden warned allies that the world is at an “inflection point” in the ideological battle between democratic and autocratic values, and called on them to join with Washington in defending freedom. In a speech delivered on February 19 to the Munich Security Conference, Biden also sought to dispel any concerns in Europe about Washington’s commitment to the transatlantic relationship, saying it was vital to containing threats posed by China and Russia, which he accused of seeking to undermine democracy and weaken NATO. This year’s annual gathering of the world’s top national security and military leaders is being held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia's Justice Ministry is planning to create another list of the so-called “foreign agents,” adding to its already existing lists of “foreign agent” NGOs and “foreign agent” media outlets. The new registry will include non-registered & unincorporated public organizations financed from abroad, which authorities deem to be conducting political activities in Russia. Earlier this week, the Russian State Duma approved a draft law establishing 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). (Russian Service)
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council decided to impose sanctions on 19 legal entities and eight individuals, including a pro-Russian politician, leader of the political faction “Opposition Block for Life” Viktor Medvedchuk, and his wife, Oksana Marchenko. Medvedchuk is also known to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter. According to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov, the sanctions against individuals are related to the investigation conducted by Ukraine's Security Service under the article "terrorist financing." (in Russian, Current Time TV)
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has called on the Biden administration to brief Congress on its steps to stop a controversial Russian natural-gas pipeline to Europe amid concerns it is nearing completion. In a February 17 letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, four members of the House of Representatives requested information on the status of the Nord Stream 2 project, which is believed to be around 90 percent complete. The lawmakers also said they wanted to know if Germany had made any proposal to halt or water down U.S. sanctions targeting the pipeline. The U.S. sanctions against Nord Stream have become a thorn in the side of American-German relations, with Berlin continuing to back the project.
A prominent U.S. investor currently on trial in Russia on embezzlement charges says he plans to continue to invest in the Russian economy when his prosecution comes to an end. Michael Calvey, the founder of the private equity group Baring Vostok, again proclaimed his innocence as his high-profile trial resumed at Moscow’s Meshchansky district court on February 17. "We can't wait when the hearings on the matter proceed further and the process is over and we can return to what we do best, which is to invest into Russian companies," Calvey said after the court adjourned the hearing until February 24.
A Moscow court has upheld a ruling placing Oleg Navalny, the brother of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, under house arrest. The Moscow City Court on February 18 rejected Oleg Navalny's appeal against a lower court decision to place him under house arrest on charges of breaking coronavirus restrictions by publicly calling on Moscow residents to take part in unsanctioned rallies to protest his brother's arrest.
Russian activist Anastasia Shevchenko has been handed a four-year suspended sentence for carrying out activities on behalf of an "undesirable organization," in what Amnesty International has called a "travesty of justice." A judge for the October district court in the city of Rostov-on-Don on February 18 found Shevchenko guilty of having links with the opposition group Open Russia, a British-based organization founded by exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Shevchenko's supporters say the case was a politically motivated attempt to stop her activism and punish her for showing dissent publicly.
Belarusian lawmakers are reportedly preparing to consider legal changes that would make almost any criticism of the government "extremist" behavior that could lead to severe punishment including the loss of livelihood and citizenship. The suggested tweaks to the country's law on extremism were published by multiple independent Telegram channels on February 18 and would be debated after parliament's spring session opens on April 2. RFE/RL was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the proposed amendments, which were reportedly sent to parliament last week. Also read -- Belarus Authorities Refuse To Launch Probe Into Protester Killing.
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya says that by prosecuting journalists the authorities in Belarus are sending a message to the media: "Either you're with the regime, or you're in jail." Tsikhanouskaya made the comments during an exclusive, wide-ranging video interview with Current Time on February 18, the same day that a judge in Minsk sentenced two journalists to two years in prison each for reporting live from a rally in the capital in November.
Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he does not plan to ask for money from Russia when he holds talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin on February 22. Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov on February 18 confirmed the meeting of the two leaders, saying he expects a "quite extensive" discussion on issues ranging from bilateral relations to international issues. One thing that won't be on the agenda, Lukashenka said at a meeting with the State Secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union state, Grigory Rapota, is a request from Minsk for money.
RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports, citing the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s press service, that in 2021 the Ministry plans to sign a contract for the first experimental battery of the operational and tactical missile complex known as "Sapsan" or "Thunder-2," which was developed by Ukraine’s Pivdenne Design Bureau. In August 2013, during the presidency of the ousted Viktor Yanukovych's, Pivdenne Design Bureau and Pavlograd Chemical Plant, Ukraine's leading defense and rocket and space companies, had stopped working on the “Sapsan” missile system project. (Ukrainian Service)
NATO says it is delivering over 9,000 liters of surface disinfectant to Ukraine in response to Kyiv’s request for international assistance to combat COVID-19. Ukraine started receiving the first delivery on February 17, the alliance said in a statement, adding that the donation was coordinated by NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center and Latvia. The statement said the surface disinfectant, produced by a Latvian company, is to be distributed to “the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine and its border guard detachments at border crossing points” across the Eastern European country.
The European Union has given Hungary a two-month deadline to change a law pushed through parliament by right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government that forces nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to disclose foreign donors. The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, sent a letter to Budapest on February 18 saying it had two months to implement changes after the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled last year that the 2017 law "introduced discriminatory and unjustified restrictions" in breach of fundamental rights, including on personal data protection and freedom of association.
The United States needs to step up its engagement with the Western Balkans if it wants to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the region, the former president of Croatia said. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who served as president of the Balkan nation from 2015-20, also criticized Europe for dragging its feet on regional integration. “If you want to really prevent others from political interference in a certain area, then you have to be involved yourself,” Grabar-Kitarovic said, referring to the United States, during a discussion hosted on February 17 by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
Police in downtown Tbilisi have brawled with dozens of opposition and civil rights activists who unsuccessfully tried to set up a tent in front of the parliament building. The Interior Ministry told RFE/RL on February 19 that 20 people were detained for allegedly not complying with a lawful order or demand of a law-enforcement officer. The tent was confiscated. The activists have been protesting near the parliament for several months against what they call the rigging of October 31, 2020 parliamentary elections and an ongoing political crisis in the country. Also read -- Garibashvili Named To Georgian PM Post After Gakharia Resigns.
Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) has rearrested Raimbek Matraimov, the controversial former deputy chief of the Customs Service, days after demonstrators in Bishkek protested against what they saw as a lenient sentence handed to him on corruption charges. UKMK officials told RFE/RL on February 18 that Matraimov was arrested due to an ongoing probe launched into money laundering, adding that the decision on Matraimov's pretrial restrictions will be made within 48 hours. The UKMK move comes four days after hundreds rallied in the Kyrgyz capital, protesting a Bishkek court ruling last week that ordered a mitigated sentence and no jail time for Matraimov.