The United States and the European Union have announced coordinated sanctions against Russian officials over the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, as the White House looks to set a "very different" course with Moscow while also demonstrating a united front against the Kremlin's "unacceptable behavior." Washington said on March 2 it was placing sanctions on seven senior Russian officials after an intelligence assessment concluded "with high confidence" that officers from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) were behind the activist's August poisoning.
A former inmate of the prison where Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is believed to have been transferred told Current Time that he was subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, and bullying during his incarceration. A former manager of the Yukos oil company, Vladimir Pereverzin, said he expected Navalny to suffer the same treatment.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who turned 90 on March 2, presided over the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War.
People took to the streets in cities and towns across Kazakhstan on February 28 to press for democratic reforms. Police were reported to have detained dozens of people at the rallies, nearly all of which were not officially sanctioned by authorities. The ruling Nur Otan party has dominated the political scene in Kazakhstan for almost three decades while opposition movements, sidelined and with no seats in parliament, mostly make themselves heard through public protests.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic arrived in Sarajevo to donate 10,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the two constituent entities that make up the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Vucic was welcomed at the airport in the Bosnian capital on March 2 by Bosnian presidency members Milorad Dodik and Sefik Dzaferovic.
A court case is causing outrage on Russian social media after evidence was presented showing how desperate calls to emergency services were ignored, allowing a man to torture and then kill his ex-girlfriend at an apartment in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. In a recording of one call, the victim's screams can be clearly heard, but the operator says, "What should I do about it?"
The voice-based social network Clubhouse has become a trend that, like Telegram and YouTube before it, could transform the way Russians get their information. With officials still scrambling to understand the application, so far, restrictions on the platform are mostly technical. As of February 22, Russia, which reportedly has up to a few hundred thousand actual users, ranked third in the world, after the U.S. and Japan, for Clubhouse downloads (784,000) since the application’s March 2020 beta launch, according to the tech news site Gadgets 360.
The Pentagon has announced a $125 million military aid package for Ukraine that includes two armed patrol boats to help the country defend its territorial waters. In addition to the two Mark VI patrol boats, the package also consists of radars for countering artillery, support for satellite imagery and analysis capability, and equipment to support military medical treatment and combat evacuation procedures. The Pentagon also said that the remaining $150 million in military aid approved by the U.S. Congress for the 2021 budget year will not be provided until the departments of State and Defense are able to certify to lawmakers that Ukraine has made “sufficient progress on key defense reforms this year.”
Autocratic leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka says there will be "no transfer of power" in Belarus, where thousands have demonstrated across the country since early August demanding his resignation over an election they say was rigged. "No transfer [of power] is possible in Belarus.... Everything will be in accordance with the constitution," Lukashenka said in Minsk on March 2 as he spoke about his talks last month with President Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Sochi. "The [new] constitution, as I said before, we will adopt in January-February next year. And that is all that the transfer of power will be about," Lukashenka said, adding that a transfer of power was not on the agenda when he met with Putin.
Veteran Russian activist Lev Ponomaryov has shut his well-respected human rights organization due to the country's controversial laws on "foreign agents." Ponomaryov announced the decision to shut down his For Human Rights NGO in a televised interview on March 1, the day laws increasing fines for violating the so-called "foreign agent" law took effect. Ponomaryov's organization was established as an unregistered group in 2019 after a Supreme Court ruling to liquidate his movement with the same name, which had conducted rights monitoring and advocacy for more than two decades.
RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service project Donbas.Realii reports that Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk are rotating tanks to a location about 4 kilometers from the front line, even though in 2015 the opposing sides agreed to keep all tanks at least 15 kilometers from the contact line. Residents of a neighborhood in Donetsk spotted two tanks moving to the direction of Donetsk airport and another two going back. Recently, cases of injuries and deaths among Ukrainian armed forces near the contact line have increased as well. (Ukrainian Service/Donbas.Realii)
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov continues to appoint relatives to senior government positions – most recently his fourth cousin, 30-year-old Khas-Magomed Kadyrov, who was nominated for the post of mayor of Grozny. In 2017, at the age of 26, Khas-Magomed Kadyrov led the police in Grozny; in 2019 he was appointed mayor of the town of Argun, and also served as a secretary of the regional Security Council. Six months ago, he was appointed to head up Kadyrov’s Administration. Several relatives of Kadyrov hold leadership positions in Chechnya, including his sisters, cousins and fourth cousins, uncles, husbands of sisters and daughters; some have also been appointed to high-level positions at the federal level. (in Russian, Current Time)
According to the data of the Russian Federal Statistics Service Rosstat, the increase of the food prices in Russia over that past year is 7.5 times higher than in the EU -- food price inflation in January 2021 has amounted to 8.2 percent over the last year, while in the EU countries to 1.1 percent. The highest increase registered for vegetables -- 6.3 percent. (Russian Service)
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) says it has disrupted a ring of former and current Ukrainian diplomats accused of smuggling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods -- including gold and foreign currency. In a statement on March 1, the SBU said the diplomats, whose identities were not disclosed, used the diplomatic mail system and diplomatic documents to smuggle excise goods to and from the European Union. According to the statement, the group of diplomats illegally moved foreign currency, gold, and tobacco items across the border.
Rights activists are questioning official reports that an inmate committed suicide after he was found dead in a prison in Russia's Siberian region of Irkutsk. Relatives of Adygzhy Aimyr-Ool, an ethnic Tuvan, told RFE/RL on February 28 that they learned about the death from other inmates who had managed to get word to them. Vladimir Osechkin, the coordinator of the Gulagu.net human rights group, told RFE/RL that Aimyr-Ool was found dead on February 26 during an evening roll call.
During a visit to Georgia, European Council President Charles Michel has called on the country’s political parties to engage in a dialogue to defuse an ongoing crisis sparked by last year’s general elections and exacerbated by the recent arrest of a top opposition leader. Raising concerns about the "worsening crisis,” Michel said in Tbilisi on March 1 that the EU is calling on “all parties to step up their efforts to defuse the situation and come together to find common ground.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said that he is prepared to hold snap parliamentary elections provided the opposition agrees to certain conditions. Political tensions in Armenia are high, with supporters of Pashinian and the opposition each staging massive rallies at separate sites in the capital. Pashinian is facing an ongoing political crisis after the army demanded that he quit last week, a move he said amounted to a coup attempt. Also read -- EU-Armenia Partnership Pact Enters Into Force.
Citing Tajik security sources, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reports that in the past three months more than 1.2 tons of gold and $112 million have been smuggled from Afghanistan via Tajikistan into the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Anonymous sources have told RFE/RL that a preliminary investigation confirmed that this is not the first instance of such smuggling. So far, nine people have been detained, two of them Afghan citizens while the others are Tajiks, and include employees of the customs service, the airport, and the Tajik Internal Affairs Ministry. (Tajik Service)
Kyrgyzstan’s foreign debt is reportedly as much as $5 billion and more than 40 percent of that ($1.8 billion) is owed to the Export-Import Bank of China for a series of infrastructure projects over the last decade under the guise of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) -- Chinese leader Xi Jinping's signature foreign-policy project. Bishkek, however, is grappling with a contracting economy whose gross domestic product dropped 8.6 percent in 2020, prompting fears the country will be unable to pay off its loans or even meet interest payments, especially on the Central Asian country’s commitments owed to Beijing.
Kyrgyz organized-crime figure Kamchy Kolbaev, who was added by Washington to a list of major global drug-trafficking suspects in 2011, has been released from pretrial detention and ordered not to leave Bishkek. Aisulu Jaasynova, spokeswoman at the Bishkek City Court, told RFE/RL that the decision to change Kolbaev’s pretrial restrictions was made on March 2. She did not say why the decision was made. Kolbaev, who is known as a "thief-in-law," a title traditionally given to kingpins among criminal groups in former Soviet republics, was detained on suspicion of organizing a criminal group and participating in the activities of an organized criminal group on October 22, 2020.
The European Union’s special envoy for talks between Serbia and Kosovo, Miroslav Lajcak, says there is a “clear understanding” among Kosovo's leaders of the importance of EU-mediated normalization talks with neighboring Serbia. Speaking after talks with acting President Vjosa Osmani, Lajcak said he believed a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia could be reached “within several months” but that it was up to the two countries to “decide how quickly they want to proceed.
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