In 1957, the world's first manmade object entered into orbit around the Earth. It was called Sputnik and it was launched by the Soviet Union. Sixty-three years later, Russia launched another Sputnik: Sputnik V, the first vaccine registered against the coronavirus. Despite serious concerns by experts that the vaccine was rushed out without the necessary trials, more than 40 countries have so far decided to put their faith in it and, to varying degrees, have approved Sputnik V for use. Here's what you need to know about it.
For a few days, the small Russian town of Pokrov, 100 kilometers east of Moscow, thought it was hosting opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in a local prison. On March 3, Navalny stated that he actually is imprisoned in the village of Kolchugino, a few hours to the northeast of the Russian capital. But the opinions heard in Pokrov illustrate the depths of Russia's divide over Navalny.
Travelers in Russia can book a trip that takes them on a route through the Urals traveled by some members of the last royal family before their execution in 1918. The tour is scenic and educational, but offers a window onto a dark chapter of Russia's past.
Inside Georgia, there are two borders that are not even supposed to exist, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. Locals who live close to the breakaway South Ossetia or Abkhazia regions face arrest for crossing a sometimes invisible border, even though they are legally still in the same country.
A new play in Moscow is bringing stories of the Soviet gulag to audiences with the help of real objects discovered at prison camps. The creators say letters, inscriptions, and household items help present a picture of the time, as well as the suffering of the prisoners.
Moscow says it plans a retaliatory "stop list" on U.S. citizens in response to Washington's decision to impose new sanctions against several senior Russian officials over the poisoning of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. "Taking into account how [the United States is] behaving now, how they published all the [sanction] lists, I think we will surprise them soon, as well. We are working on it," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a televised interview on March 5.
The U.S. State Department says it has designated Ukrainian tycoon and former public official Ihor Kolomoyskiy, who is accused of involvement in “significant corruption.” "While this designation is based on acts during his time in office, I also want to express concern about [Kolomoyskiy’s] current and ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to its future," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on March 5. Tune in for a special report from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on what U.S. sanctions mean for Kolomoyskiy (in Ukrainian).
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has singled out a "growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states" as a key challenge facing the United States. A White House document outlining Biden's national-security policies, made public on March 3, describes China, the world's second-largest economic power, as "the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy got heads turning last month when his administration imposed what it described as sanctions against individuals and entities with strong ties to Russia, including three television stations and influential tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk. Advocates of reform hope the unprecedented actions are signs that Zelenskiy is getting serious about delivering on the aggressive agenda of political and economic change that he outlined during the 2019 presidential campaign, but struggled to implement last year amid concerns about backsliding.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the Internet in Russia to be bound by "moral laws" that he says will stop society from "collapsing" -- suggesting that Russian children are being exploited by his political opponents at anti-Kremlin demonstrations. Putin's televised remarks on March 4 come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustration from Russian authorities over what they say is the failure of U.S. social media firms to follow Russian laws. Also read “Grandpa Putin Went Online.” Russia’s web users expect a tightening of the screws -- a compilation of social media reactions by Russians from RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
Since last year, Irina Likhtenshtein, a 73-year-old retired translator and editor in the central Russian city of Kazan, has steadily watched her grocery bills climb. Potatoes? They're up 40 percent, though she doesn't eat them much. Carrots are up 30 percent. Fish used to be around 10 rubles ($0.15) a kilogram, now it's 15. Quail is her go-to meat, but that's now 530 rubles ($7) for a half-kilogram, up from 490 rubles last year. Her state pension is around 17,000 rubles (US$230) a month.
Belarusian authorities have officially requested that Lithuania extradite opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been living in the Baltic country since leaving amid safety fears following the disputed August 2020 presidential election that sparked mass protests that have been put down violently by authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Prosecutor-General's Office of Belarus said on March 5 that Tsikhanouskaya is wanted by Minsk for "crimes committed against public order, public safety, and the state." Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis issued a statement soon after the request was made public, saying Vilnius will ignore it.
Russia’s Justice Ministry has added the professional medical organization Alliance Of Doctors to its controversial list of organizations fulfilling the functions of a “foreign agent.” The ministry announced the decision on March 3, saying it had determined the NGO had received foreign funding and was engaged in political activity. It did not offer any specifics. The Alliance Of Doctors is headed by ophthalmologist Anastasia Vasilyeva, who has treated opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in the past. The organization, founded in 2018, fights for fair wages and working conditions for medical professionals.
Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov rejected as absurd the findings of an investigation by Mediazona and the anti-corruption Scanner Project, which reported that alleged accomplices in the murder of politician Boris Nemtsov were in contact with high-ranking Chechen police officers and officials, including those from Kadyrov’s inner circle, on the day of the crime and after it. The officials from the inner circle are reportedly Russian Federation Council member Suleiman Geremeyev and State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov. Kadyr once again accused the West of contemplating the collapse of Russia and wrote that “it is no coincidence that the Chechens are constantly mentioned on any occasion.” (in Russian, Current Time TV)
A court in the Russian city of Samara has found civil rights activist Karim Yamadayev guilty, but said he should be released after spending more than a year in detention for mocking President Vladimir Putin and two of his close associates online. The Central District Military Court on March 4 found Yamadayev guilty of public calls for terrorism and insulting authorities and ordered him to pay a fine of 300,000 rubles ($4,000). The court also barred Yamadayev, who was held in the Tatarstan region before being moved to Samara, from being an administrator on social networks for 2 1/2 years.
RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports, citing Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, that despite international agreements and commitments taken on by Russia, it is “increasing the combat readiness of troops in the temporarily occupied territories and near the borders of Ukraine.” The Ministry also noted that Russia-backed separatist administrations have intensified ideological work among the local population, glorifying the Russian occupation and encouraging people to enlist in the separatists’ military services. (Ukrainian Service)
Sanctions have prohibited companies from doing business with the Russian authorities controlling Crimea for more than six years, but Western participation in the development of a bold, seagull-inspired opera house flies in the face of that ban. The Sevastopol State Opera and Ballet Theater, designed by the avant-garde Austrian architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au and expected to open in 2023, is part of a massive Kremlin-ordered cultural complex being constructed on the southern tip of the peninsula.
Five Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia's Komi Republic have been accused of organizing and taking part in the activities of an extremist group, amid a continued crackdown on the religious group, which has been banned in the country since 2017. Russia's Investigative Committee said on March 4 that a court in the city of Syktyvkar ordered one suspect in the case to be placed in pretrial detention; two more were placed under house arrest, while another two were ordered not to leave the city while an investigation takes place.
The leader of an Armenian opposition parliamentary faction says talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on holding early parliamentary elections have failed to reach a deal so far. Pashinian, who faces a political crisis and a call from the army to resign, has said he is open to holding snap elections, but only if the opposition agrees to certain conditions. "We have held negotiations. No understanding has been reached with the prime minister," Bright Armenia leader Edmond Marukian told reporters after meeting with Pashinian on March 4.
The European Union regards Moldova's new leadership with sympathy and has shown its readiness to help the country fight corruption and reform its judiciary, President Maia Sandu has told RFE/RL, adding that the East European state needs to take advantage of this opportunity. A U.S.-educated former adviser with the World Bank, Sandu defeated Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in November 2020 on a pledge to fight entrenched corruption and improve relations with the European Union.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Kyrgyzstan to withdraw a draft constitution submitted to lawmakers last month, saying it undermines human rights norms and weakens the checks and balances necessary to prevent abuses of power. “The current draft constitution does not reflect the high human rights standards Kyrgyzstan says it aspires to,” Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at the New York-based human rights watchdog, said in a statement on March 5.
American companies Facebook and Google have registered as taxpaying entities in Tajikistan, in compliance with new amendments to the tax code that went into effect on January 16 on taxation of electronic services by foreign companies. The registration of the two internet giants as taxpayers will have no impact on ordinary Internet users in Tajikistan. However, from now on foreign companies must pay taxes on the profits received from Tajik citizens. Bloggers are also required to pay taxes. (Tajik Service)
Dozens of mothers, some of whom have children with medical conditions, have gathered at Almaty's city hall days before International Women's Day to demand that city officials increase the support the city provides to families. The women entered the city administration building on March 5, demanding that Mayor Baqytzhan Saghyntaev meet with them. The women complained that they had been added to the city administration's list for distribution of free apartments to families in need, but had failed to move up the list despite being on it for years.