Amid skepticism over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, authorities have ordered Ekho Moskvy to remove a March 16 interview with political analyst and Kremlin critic Valery Solovei, who dismissed official reporting on cases and fatalities and accused the government of failing to cope with the crisis. Authorities said the order to strike the interview was part of an effort"to prevent the spread of false information related to the coronavirus.” Solovei has been threatened with a 100,000 ruble ($1,300) fine. Ekho Moskvy has complied. (video)
As of March 24, Russia’s official tally of confirmed coronavirus cases stood at just 495, clustered mainly in Moscow but also scattered across at least 46 cities and regions. That put Russia, with a population of about 144 million, at a per-capita level comparable to places in Central America and southern Africa, where the coronavirus is so far almost nonexistent. By contrast, many neighboring and nearby European nations are seeing much higher rates of confirmed cases.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Russian authorities “to stop censoring news outlets” that report on the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
As single protests against constitutional amendments and in support of political prisoners continue in Russia, so do arrests, as police make use of a coronavirus-related restrictions to detain activists. One protester was told by police that, after standing at the entrance of a metro station for 40 minutes, he constituted a public health threat to passers by. Others noted that police detain activists on public health grounds while not wearing facial masks themselves. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
The Kyiv prosecutor-general’s office has launched a criminal investigation involving employees of the Kyiv customs service for allegedly registering the export of medical masks to Spain. Employees are suspected of facilitating the transport of masks at reduced cost to evade customs duties. (Ukrainian Service)
The coronavirus pandemic has been acutely felt in eastern Ukraine, where the line of contact between government-controlled territory and regions held by Russia-backed separatists has become even more complicated than usual. The measures introduced by Kyiv and the separatists to control the virus have exacerbated the humanitarian situation near the contact line in the Donbas, while the fighting continues.
The OSCE has expressed concern over the introduction of new measures against spreading panic and "fake news" regarding the coronavirus outbreak in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Kosovo's parliament is set to vote on a no-confidence motion that could engulf the Balkan country in a political crisis even as it battles the coronavirus pandemic along with the rest of the world. LDK leader Isa Mustafa filed the motion after Prime Minister Albin Kurti on March 18 dismissed Interior Minister Agim Veliu, purportedly for spreading "panic" after he backed a call for a state of emergency.
Ukraine OKs State Of Emergency; Putin To Address Nation Over Spike In Cases
In a live TV address, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a postponement due to coronavirus concerns on a public vote on changes to the constitution that could let him remain in power until 2036.
A Moscow city court has denied an appeal by American investor Michael Calvey and his business partner, French national Philippe Delpal, over their house arrest. The two were arrested and charged with financial fraud in February 2019, and released under house arrest in April. They deny the charges and say the case is being used against them in a corporate dispute over the control of a Russian bank. (Russian Service)
A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck off the Kurile Islands on March 24, causing a small tsunami and prompting a tsunami alert on the western coast of the United States and Canada and as far away as Hawaii.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has included numerous territories in annexed Crimea in an expanded list of federal territories where property cannot be owned by “foreigners” and “foreign legal entities.” The list includes most of the regions of the peninsula and Sevastopol, as well as Kerch, Yalta, Yevpatoriya, and other coastal cities. It omits three regions of Crimea -- Pervomayskiy, Krasnogvardeisky and Belogorsky -- that do not border mainland Ukraine and lack access to the Black Sea. (Russian Service)
Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers has submitted to parliament a revised bill on banking regulations needed to meet requirements set by the International Monetary Fund for a new lending package. The bill aims to protect the nation’s interests following a decision to nationalize insolvent or troubled banks and prevent tycoons from regaining control over their former assets.
Poland extradited the co-owner of a Siberian shopping mall to Russia to face bribery charges on the eve of the second anniversary of a fire at a shopping mall that killed 60 people.
Authorities in Baku have arrested Deputy Chairman of the opposition Musavat party Tofig Yaqublu for three months, reports his lawyer Elchin Sadygov. Human Rights Watch notes that the arrest comes days after President Ilham Aliyev said he will use measures allegedly designed to combat the coronavirus pandemic to suppress the opposition. (in Russian, Current Time TV)
European Union ministers say they have approved beginning membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania, with Germany’s state secretary for European affairs tweeted, calling it "good news in these gloomy times."
Reports from Turkey say at least 37 labor migrants from Turkmenistan have died from drinking tainted alcohol during the past week, possibly in a misguided effort to fend off the coronavirus. Reports say relatives of several victims were unable to transport their bodies back to Turkmenistan due to the cancellation of international flights over the coronavirus pandemic.