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Opposition, NGO Event Broken Up In Moscow, Dozens Detained GRAB 1

With Elections Still Months Off, The Kremlin Sends A Chilling Signal

Mikhail Kovyazin, a 48-year-old independent municipal deputy from the city of Kirov, had modest plans when he decided to attend the Municipal Russia conference of independent lawmakers in Moscow on March 13-14. Instead, Kovyazin found himself -- like all of the other nearly 200 people from 56 regions who were in the hall when the event opened -- detained by Moscow police and shuffled into a police van. He found himself sitting next to prominent opposition leader Ilya Yashin for several hours, getting a firsthand account of the political situation in the Russia of President Vladimir Putin from a close associate of slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

VISUAL REPORTS

Troops, Medics In Ukraine's War-Torn East Reject COVID-19 Vaccines

Troops and medics have been declared priority groups for vaccination by the Ukrainian government. But many of the soldiers facing off against Russia-backed separatists in the trenches of eastern Ukraine say there's no need for them to be vaccinated against COVID-19, because they are already isolated from the rest of society. Similar views were voiced by medics in a regional hospital, where only 5 percent of staff have agreed to be immunized. A UNICEF official in Ukraine said the reluctance was fueled by disinformation sweeping the country. Also watch -- Medical Workers Prioritized As Georgia Begins COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout.

5 Things To Know About The Jehovah's Witnesses In Russia

Since being outlawed by Russia as "extremist" in 2017, more than 50 Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia and the occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea for up to 7 1/2 years. Here's what you need to know about the challenges facing the denomination, which has about 8 million followers worldwide. Also -- a 77-year-old Jehovah’s Witness in Russia's Far Eastern Primorye region was handed a six-year suspended sentence on extremism charges amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group.

Kosovo Opens Embassy In Jerusalem

The Kosovar Foreign Ministry announced on March 14 that it had formally opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, which comes six weeks after Kosovo and Israel established diplomatic ties. The rapprochement was envisioned in Kosovo's deal with Serbia, brokered by former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration in September 2020.

Babyn Yar's 'Revenge'? The Deadly Mudslide The KGB Tried To Cover Up

About 34,000 Jews were killed in the ravine in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on September 29-30, 1941, soon after the Nazis occupied the city. Over the succeeding months, they killed about 100,000 people at the site, including Soviet prisoners of war, communists, Ukrainian nationalists, and Roma. Later, the massacre site was filled with liquid waste from nearby brick factories. The plan was to drain the waste and have the remaining mud and pulp fill the ravine. But on the evening of March 12, 1961, amid heavy rain, the pumping station at the dam failed.

TOP NEWS

Apple Reportedly Agrees To Preinstall Russian Software On Gadgets

Russian media are reporting that Apple has agreed to sell its gadgets in Russia with preinstalled Russian-made software to comply with a law that comes into force on April 1. A report by the Vedomosti newspaper on March 16 cited a source in Russia's Ministry of Digital Development and Communications (Mintsifra) as saying that starting next month, customers with newly bought Apple gadgets will be able to choose from a number of applications approved by the Russian government. Those applications not chosen will not be installed. Vedomosti said official representatives of Apple confirmed the decision. Also -- Russian State Duma approves fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($2,700) for selling smartphones and smart TV’s without pre-installed Russian software.

Roskomnadzor Threatens To Ban Twitter, Simonyan Proposes To Close All Foreign Social Media, Comares Them With Tanks

Russian media state media report, citing deputy head of Roskomnadzor Vadim Subbotin, that the agency will block Twitter in Russia within a month, if it fails to remove prohibited materials from its platform. Also, speaking on air on Radio Govorit Moskva, the head of the Russia’s state-run RT network and Rossiya Segodnya news agency, Margarita Simonyan, said that all foreign social networks should be closed. “All foreign social networks must be closed. Carthage must be destroyed. Foreign social networks, which are an instrument of war against Russia, serving as a weapon, must be closed. Nobody lets enemy tanks inside their country – this is idiocy, but we let them in. They must be kicked out of here, but first, we need to build our own cooler ones, more powerful tanks” -- said Simonyan. (in Russian, Current Time TV)

Russian Duma Plans To Allow Citizens Of Separatist-Controlled Territories In Eastern Ukraine To Vote In Russian Parliamentary Elections

The head of the Russian State Duma Committee on CIS and Eurasian Integration Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov has announced that residents with Russian passports living in the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk peoples republics in Ukraine’s Donbas, currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists, might be allowed to vote in Russia’s parliamentary elections scheduled for the Fall 2021. Kalashnikov said that, along with their Russian passports, residents of separatist-held territories “acquired all the rights” of Russian citizens, including the right to vote. Also -- the Duma gave preliminary approval to a draft law that would allow criminal punishment for offending World War II veterans. (Russian Service)

Navalny's Selection For Prestigious Cinema Prize Provokes Rift In Russia's Film Community

The Russian Guild of Film Critics has dropped its sponsorship of the prestigious White Elephant cinema prize after its own expert panel awarded jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny for a series of investigative documentaries revealing evidence of corruption among the country's top officials. But the decision to include Navalny, Putin’s most outspoken critic over the past decade, prompted what the expert council said in a statement was “the first conflict in 22 years of the award’s existence” -- and one playing out in what the council called an atmosphere of “pressure and attempts to censor its activities.” Also read -- Hearing Into Navalny Lawsuit Over Refusal To Probe His Poisoning Postponed.

Torture Complaint Filed In Moscow Against Vagner Mercenary Group

Three nongovernmental organizations based in France, Syria, and Russia have announced a legal case in Moscow against the Vagner Group, a Russian military contractor with indirect ties to the country's political elite, over the 2017 torture of a detainee in Syria. "This litigation is a first-ever attempt by the family of a Syrian victim to hold Russian suspects accountable for serious crimes committed in Syria," the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center said in a joint statement on March 15.

Russian Duma Adopts A Bill Requiring Coordination Of Educational Activities With The Authorities

The Russian Duma passed a bill requiring all educational activities outside of schools and universities to coordinate their content with authorities, to prevent the “discrediting” of government policy, revisions of history, and the undermining of the constitutional order. The bill includes websites, YouTube channels, podcasts, refresher courses, seminars, and training of non-governmental organizations, as well as continuing education programs. Earlier, St. Petersburg Education Committee head Natalia Putilovskaya said teachers should monitor their pupils' social media feeds for posts about Aleksei Navalny. (Russian Service/Current Time TV)

Tsikhanouskaya Calls On Jailed Belarusians To Stop Their Hunger Strikes

Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on three jailed Belarusians to stop hunger strikes they started to protest their incarceration as part of a crackdown on those speaking out against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In a video statement issued on YouTube on March 14, Tsikhanouskaya tells journalist Ihar Losik, musician Ihar Bantser, and activist Dzmitry Furmanau that Belarus cannot risk losing them. Also -- Jailed Belarusian Blogger Losik Ends Hunger Strike, Put In Solitary Confinement.

Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Fresh Cyberattack

Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU) said on March 16 that it had prevented a large-scale cyberattack by Russian hackers targeting classified government data. The SBU said the aim was to "get access to classified data of the highest institutions of state power of Ukraine" and accused Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) of being behind the hackers who it said had carried out the attack. Kyiv has previously accused Moscow of orchestrating large cyberattacks as part of a "hybrid war" against Ukraine, but Russia denies this. The FSB did not immediately comment on the latest accusation.

Russia-Controlled Crimea Temporarily Lifts Pandemic Restrictions To Mark Annexation Anniversary

Authorities in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea have temporarily lifted coronavirus pandemic restrictions to mark the seventh anniversary of the region's annexation by Moscow. The Russian-imposed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, signed a decree on March 15 to allow the ceremonies. The decree was posted on the website of the occupation government. According to the decree, events organized by the pro-Kremlin Night Wolves bikers' club, as well as patriotic events at schools and military schools, may be held on March 18.

Yerevan Eyes OSCE Role In Final Nagorno-Karabakh Settlement

Armenia believes any final political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be negotiated solely within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group. At a joint news conference in Yerevan with Sweden's visiting foreign minister and OSCE chairperson-in-office, Ann Linde, Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian said on March 16 that Armenia views the trilateral agreement signed by Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan on November 9 to end six weeks of fighting in the breakaway region last fall as an interim solution. Also -- Armenia's First President Calls For PM's Immediate Resignation.

Armenia, Azerbaijan Conduct Large-Scale Military Exercises

Armenia’s armed forces are due to begin large-scale military exercises on March 16, one day after Azerbaijan launched four days of drills involving thousands of troops. Deputy Defense Minister Arman Sargsian said Armenia’s armed forces will aim to test their defense capability during their first major military exercises since a defeat in a war against Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh last fall. The March 16-20 drills will involve 7,500 soldiers, about 100 tanks and armored vehicles, some 300 artillery and anti-aircraft systems, and aircraft, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said.

Exclusive: Kyrgyz President Defends Controversial Constitutional Changes

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has praised constitutional changes he initiated saying they are needed to "establish order" in the Central Asian country, despite concerns by some groups they will create an authoritarian ruler if accepted in a referendum next month. In an interview with RFE/RL on March 15, Japarov said that after trying a parliamentary system over the past decade and a mixed parliamentary-presidential system before that, Kyrgyzstan was now at a point where there must be one strong branch of power in the country.

Police In Almaty Disperse Peaceful Picket Near Chinese Consulate

Police in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, have dispersed a peaceful picket by several protesters demanding the release of their relatives "illegally" held in China, the first time law enforcement has intervened since the daily rallies started more than a month ago. Protester Baibolat Kunbolat told RFE/RL that when police started forcibly pushing the picketers out of the site on March 15, one of the protesters, an elderly woman, felt unwell and an ambulance was called. Kunbolat said that after the health scare for the woman, the participants decided not to resist police and left the site.

Uzbek Farmers Unhappy With President's Order Giving Land To Jobless Youth

Just as many Uzbek farmers began sowing the seeds for this season's crops, President Shavkat Mirziyoev called on them to give some of their agricultural land to young people without jobs. "Every farmer should allocate two hectares of land [that will] be given to four young people, [each of them getting] half a hectare," Mirziyoev said at a cabinet meeting in Tashkent on January 27. "They will grow whatever crop they like on that land." The president ordered that one hectare from every 10 hectares of farmland should be given to young people.

'Poisoned Sausages': Ahead Of National Dog Day, Turkmen Officials Accused Of Killing Pets

Residents of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, say municipal authorities have intensified a cruel campaign to cull stray dogs and cats -- and carelessly kill family pets in the process -- ahead of a new national holiday for a storied Central Asian breed of dog. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov recently declared the last Sunday of April Alabai Dog Day in honor of the breed dubbed "wolf crushers" for their ferocity.

Inside ‘Putin's Troops’ -- RFE/RL Visits The Russian Pensioners Behind Viral Online Videos In Support Of Putin

A correspondent with the RFE/RL’s Russian Service project Kavkaz.Realii visited a group of Krasnodar-based Russian pensioners known as “Putin’s troops,” famous for their viral social media and messenger videos. In recent years, they have become famous for storming a local office of the Yabloko party and headquarters of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny. More recently, they asked Elon Musk to shut down the “Clubhouse” social network, where, the pensioners said, “young people drink too much.” Despite their pro-government views, the group had been shuttered twice at the request of the Justice Ministry. The group openly declares that their “goal is to fill the Internet with viral videos of ‘Putin's troops’’' and, so far, they have been successful. (Russian Service/Kavkaz.Realii)

MAJLIS PODCAST: The New Dynamics Of Turkey's Central Asia Relations

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