Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has confirmed that he is suffering from severe back pain and that “nothing” was being done by prison authorities to treat the problem, and said he had been warned that getting sick in prison was potentially fatal. "Once Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who served 10 years in prison, told me: The main thing is not to get sick there," Navalny said in a message posted on Instagram on March 26, referring to the owner of the former oil giant Yukos. "Nobody will treat you. If you get seriously ill, you will die," he quoted Khodorkovsky as telling him. Also read -- Navalny's Prison Ordeal Revives Grim Memories Of Magnitsky's Death In 2009.
Belarusian authorities say they detained more than 200 people as citizens took to the streets of Minsk and other cities, heeding a call by opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to start a new wave of protests against longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka to coincide with the anniversary of the short-lived Belarusian People's Republic. Tsikhanouskaya urged Belarusians to use the annual Freedom Day celebration to hold street rallies across the country to pressure the authoritarian leader and declare their unity against the political crisis that has enveloped Belarus since Lukashenka was declared the winner of a presidential election in August 2020 that the opposition says was rigged. Freedom Day March Highlights Challenges Facing Belarusian Opposition & U.S. Calls For Release Of All Political Prisoners in Belarus.
Russian help lines have recorded a surge in domestic violence during the year of COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, a leading organization dealing with the issue is being evicted from its premises after being declared a "foreign agent" by the authorities, who say its calls for government agencies to help protect victims constitute "political activity."
Budapest's public transportation system came to a halt at noon on March 24 for a minute of silence in honor of victims of the COVID-19 pandemic and their loved ones. Nearly 20,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in Hungary since the start of the pandemic.
Thousands of Moscow factory workers have been forced out of company housing over the years as plants closed their dormitories or shut down altogether. But some families have stayed on despite barely livable conditions, and are fighting in court for their right to decent housing.
The legendary Leningrad Rock Club - its impact, legacy, the Russian rock legends that emerged from it and the Western musicians whose interest it attracted.
The U.S. and EU top diplomats say they have agreed to coordinate their response to Moscow’s “challenging” behavior such as its “ongoing aggression” against Ukraine and Georgia, as well as the “dwindling respect” in Russia for human rights and the rule of law. In a joint statement issued on March 24 following talks in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the EU high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said they were determined to address, in a coordinated manner, Russia's “hybrid threats, such as disinformation; interference in electoral processes; malicious cyber activities; and military posturing.” The two also “decided to coordinate their response to the shrinking space in Russia for independent political voices, civil society, and media freedom.”
Suspected Russian state-backed hackers with a history of running disinformation campaigns against NATO have targeted dozens of German lawmakers, German media reported on March 26. The hackers used spear-phishing e-mails to target the private e-mail accounts of members of the German parliament and regional state assemblies, in the latest suspected Russian-backed effort against lawmakers in the country. Public broadcaster WDR and news website Der Spiegel reported that the attacks occurred in recent days and were noticed by the BfV domestic intelligence agency and the country’s information security agency.
The Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved the third and final reading of a bill aligning election laws with recent changes to the constitution that, among other things, allow for the possibility of President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. The bill, approved on March 24, still requires the approval of parliament’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, as well as Putin's signature.
When U.S.-based Enerkon Solar International announced on February 23 that the Ukrainian government had “awarded” it a massive solar-energy power project near Chernobyl and the rights to develop a nationwide next-generation wireless technology network, it should have been big news in a country starved for foreign investment. Remarkably, the story appeared to receive no coverage in the Ukrainian press. Some investors on popular online stock discussion sites have voiced suspicion about the deal and claim Enerkon is seeking to inflate the price of its shares with false press releases so that insiders can sell shares at a high price, an illegal practice known as “pump and dump.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed one of his staunch supporters, the governor of the Penza region in the Volga Federal District, after he was arrested on suspicion of taking a bribe. Putin signed a decree dismissing Ivan Belozertsev, "due to a loss of trust," on March 23. Russia's Investigative Committee has accused Belozertsev of accepting a bribe worth of 31 million rubles ($420,000). The day before, a court in Moscow ordered Belozertsev into pretrial detention until at least May 20.
The separatist parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh has approved a proposal to make Russian the ethnic Armenian-populated region's second official language, along with Armenian. The amendments to the region's language laws were passed 27-0 on March 25, with two abstentions. The bill, which will become law upon being signed by the region's ethnic Armenian leader, Arayik Harutiunian, says that giving the Russian language an official status would deepen Nagorno-Karabakh's history of "cultural, military, and economic links" with Russia.
Ukraine has placed sanctions on dozens of Russian officials and entities, including businesses and media. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree on March 23 targeting 26 foreigners and 81 legal entities, blocking their assets and restricting travel or operations in the country. The sanctions, announced after a decision by Ukraine's national security body, also target Russian state-controlled media RT, the TASS news agency, Gazeta.ru, Lenta.ru, and others. In the case of media, the sanctions also restrict or terminate the use of telecommunications services.
A joint investigation by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service investigative program Schemes and OCCRP uncovered that pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his associate Taras Kozak obtained a large oil refining business in the Russian Federation in the wake of the 2014 Maidan revolt in Ukraine; the agreement to purchase the business was signed on the day of Russia’s armed occupation of Crimea. According to official Cypriot documents, the business, which now brings in millions of dollars in profits, was bought by Medvedchuk and Kozak for about $40,000. (Ukrainian Service)
A Russian woman serving a prison sentence on high treason charges has started a hunger strike to protest against being put in solitary confinement for complaining about prison abuse, her lawyer says. Antonina Zimina's lawyer told RFE/RL on March 26 that her client has been on hunger strike for four days in a detention center in Kaliningrad, the capital of Russia's far western exclave of the same name. In late December 2020, Zimina and her husband, Konstantin Antonets, were found guilty of spying for Latvia.
The United States is calling for Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova to be reinstated into the country’s bar association after she lost her membership earlier this month in what she claimed was a politically motivated act. Humbatova’s “work, and the work of other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, should be celebrated, not punished, and we call on those responsible to expedite her reinstatement to the Azerbaijani bar,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a March 26 statement. The prominent lawyer was disbarred on March 5 for failing to pay membership fees of $260 to the Azerbaijani Bar Association.
Armenia’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a criminal case against former President Robert Kocharian must be dropped, ending a legal saga over a deadly crackdown on protesters more than a decade ago. The high court on March 26 found “invalid” an article of the Criminal Code under which Armenia’s second president was being prosecuted. Court Chairman Arman Dilanian said Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code regarding “overthrowing the constitutional order” runs counter to two other articles of the constitution. The decision is final.
RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports that about 100 workers of Kokzhide mine in Aqtobe resumed their strike, claiming that the Chinese management of the company did not fulfill promises made after a 7-day-strike back in January. Workers at the mine, who have been trying to form a new union for the past two months, say that management is opposed to an organization that protects the rights of ordinary employees. A month ago, they notified mine president Wang Jinbao that oil production would stop if they were not allowed to create an organization to defend employee rights. (Kazakh Service)
Central Asia has its autocratic leaders, but what about the 13 sons-in-law of those leaders? Quite often, these sons-in-law get noticed for their extreme “luck” in business or for occupying very senior positions in government. Experts say that the sons-in-law contribute to the development of corruption and nepotism in their countries. But their positions, as a rule, are very precarious: they can lose it all in a moment if they find themselves in disgrace. (Kazakh Service)
Uzbekistan's government is touting an ambitious plan to create at least half a million new jobs this year for unemployed young people, through a project called Every Entrepreneur Is Support For Youth. Backed by President Shavkat Mirziyoev in a speech to a youth forum in December, the project mandates that every entrepreneur in the country hires at least one active job-seeker between the ages of 18 and 30. It's a top-down scheme that requires private businesspeople to do the heavy lifting.
Kyrgyzstan says long-standing border issues with Uzbekistan have been "100 percent fully resolved." Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security, told RFE/RL on March 26 that talks with a group of Uzbek officials led by Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov had ended with the signing of a protocol on the final delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Tashiev, who led the Kyrgyz delegation at the talks in Tashkent on March 24-25, said that no disputed segments of the border will remain after the protocol is implemented.
Police in southeastern Turkmenistan have been seen randomly detaining people who look disheveled or are wearing old clothes. Stopped on the streets, they are accused of begging or being homeless and are taken away by police, eyewitnesses told RFE/RL correspondents. A police source told RFE/RL the authorities have sent some of the detainees to toil as a “free workforce” on state-owned farms. The detentions in cities across Mary Province began in mid-March as part of an unannounced police operation to remove the homeless and beggars from cities and towns.