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Authorities Stifle Antigovernment Protests In Kaliningrad

Some 2,000 antigovernment protesters made their feelings heard in Kaliningrad.
KALININGRAD -- Some 2,000 protesters chanted "Freedom!" during an unsanctioned protest under steady rain on a grim Soviet-era square in Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. It was part of a series of demonstrations held in cities across the country today.

Demonstrators also called for firing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the man he appointed as their governor, Georgy Boos.

This was the site of a demonstration in January that drew 12,000 people, who condemned officials' authoritarianism and corruption, and sent shockwaves all the way to the Kremlin. Opposition groups hoped discontent over tax raises and benefits cuts by a crowd that included many business owners and middle-class residents would signal the start of a major wave of protest across the country.

But this time the authorities weren't taking any chances, and it appears they've stalled the opposition's momentum.

Antigovernment protesters in Soviet House Square in Kaliningrad
'Elections Don't Mean Anything

Officials denied permission for a rally on the same square today, saying it would be occupied by a farmers' market instead. Kaliningrad's opposition leader later called off plans for another protest, at a venue the authorities did allow -- an old stadium outside the city center.

Demonstrator Viktor Nikitin, a retired construction worker, said he came to the unauthorized protest anyway because he believes Russia's officials act like a separate class of privileged citizens.

"The authorities must work for the people, but here it's the other way around," he says. "We work like slaves and pay taxes, which only go toward a small part of the population -- officials."

Student Anastasia Rybachenko said the authorities fix elections to enable the pro-Kremlin United Russia party to monopolize power.

"Elections don’t mean anything. That's why people are coming out onto the streets," she says. "I showed up here because I don’t see any other political means of expressing I'm unhappy."

Submitting To Pressure

In a nearby square, performers danced and sang under a large JumboTron on a stage set up by city officials to draw crowds away from the protest. Only a handful of spectators showed up.

But the main distraction from the demonstration was a four-hour televised question-and-answer session with Governor Boos, the main target of protesters' criticism.

WATCH: Protesters in Kaliningrad, part of a "flash mob" gathering, smashed tangerines in a show of anger against the government:

Kaliningrad Flash Mob
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Outdoor television screens and camera crews set up at various spots around the city, where viewers complained about pension rates and potholes in city streets. Opposition coalition leader Konstantin Doroshok participated in the broadcast, part of his deal with the governor to call off today's authorized protest.

Doroshok's allies criticized him for submitting to pressure by the authorities. Vladimir Milov, a leader of the Moscow-based Solidarity group -- who traveled to Kaliningrad to observe today's events -- said Doroshok carried great responsibility as coalition leader.

"Unfortunately, he let down those people who want to protest against the policies of Governor Boos and Prime Minister Putin," he said. "But I'm certain Kaliningrad has a strong opposition that will find other people to lead the fight."

Konstantin Doroshok
At one point during Boos's television broadcast, he ordered Doroshok to be driven around the city to "talk to the people" himself. But at one spot, there were only about 20 people huddled under umbrellas, and he spent half the time talking on his mobile telephone. He defended his decision to call off today's protest and instead engage in a dialogue with the governor over a list of protesters' demands.

"Those who are announcing the supposed collapse of our movement are doing nothing more than trying to earn political points," he said, "just because we didn’t want to force people to go to a stadium in this rain and mud. But I share [my critics'] views. We're heading in the same direction, only on different roads."

'No One's Going To Help Us'

But during a news conference after his television session, a prickly Boos denied even having heard of a list of protesters' demands, saying he'd set up government commissions to study Kaliningraders' concerns. He lashed out at foreign reporters, saying Russia's democracy is no worse than that of Western countries and criticized demonstrators for engaging in emotional outbursts instead of constructive dialogue.

"Those people didn’t come to our television session today," he said. "Those who did come want to make life in the region better. And they understand we'll have to do that with our own hands, that no one's going to help us -- not Martians, not lunatics, not even free Europe. We'll do it ourselves, working, thinking, and agreeing which problems we're going to tackle."

As the Kremlin calibrates ways of letting off the steam of public discontent, fueled partly by the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis, officials appeared pleased over having slowed -- if not stopped -- the momentum of a protest movement that was posing serious problems just one month ago.

But back outside, protesters said they were pleased at the turnout at their unsanctioned and unpublicized event. Vladimir Ustinov says he's optimistic Kaliningraders' willingness to confront the authorities won’t die.

"Their power looks like a big, strong oak tree," he says. "But a storm of people's anger could easily knock it over and remove any trace."

Ustinov says he'd be happy if the authorities begin to respect the people "just a little bit."

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Slovakia Sends First Four MiG-29 Fighter Jets To Ukraine

Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets fly in formation over the Malacky Air Base in Slovakia in August 2022.

Slovakia has delivered the first four of a total of 13 Soviet-made fighter jets promised to Ukraine, the Slovak Defense Ministry said on March 23. "The first four MiG-29 fighter jets have been safely handed over to the Ukrainian Armed Forces," the ministry said in a statement, adding that the transfer was carried out by Ukrainian pilots. "In the coming weeks, the rest of the planes will be handed over to Ukraine," the statement said. Slovakia’s government approved the transfer of its fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets last week.

NHL Team Will Not Wear Pride-Themed Jerseys Due To Russian LGBTQ Law

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev

The Chicago Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys before their Pride Night game against Vancouver because of security concerns involving a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country. The decision was made by the NHL following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on March 22 on condition of anonymity. Chicago defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is from Moscow, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Sweden To Seek Explanation From Hungary On NATO Delay

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (file photo)

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on March 23 that he would seek an explanation from Hungary as to why its parliament is delaying ratification of Sweden's NATO bid but not Finland's. "I'm going to ask why they are now separating Sweden from Finland. These are signals we have not received before, so I'm absolutely going to raise this with [Prime Minister Viktor] Orban today," Kristersson told public broadcaster Sveriges Radio. To read the original story by AFP, click here.

Iran Sentences Five To Death For Alleged Spy Operations With Israel

A man who identified himself as Mansur Rasuli admitted he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as a U.S. general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France. (video grab)

Five Iranians -- four men and one woman -- in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia have been sentenced by a court to death for allegedly engaging in intelligence cooperation and espionage activities that benefited Israel.

Hengaw, a Norway-based group that monitors rights violations in Iran's Kurdish regions, said one of those sentenced to death is Mansur Rasuli, whose interrogation by Mossad agents in Iran made headlines last year.

At least five other people have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the case, the report added.

Last year, Israeli media reported that agents for the Mossad security service captured and interrogated a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps inside Iran.

Later, a video was released in which a person who identified himself as Rasuli admitted he wanted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working in the country's consulate in Istanbul, as well as a U.S. general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war. Tensions have been nearing a boiling point in recent years.

In November, the semiofficial Mehr News agency reported that Iran sentenced to death four people accused of collaborating with Israel. The four were accused of having interrogated people in Iran with intelligence cooperation from Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

Tensions have also flared between the two countries as negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remain deadlocked. In the absence of a deal that would curb Iran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, Tehran has reduced its commitments and expanded its nuclear activities.

Iran has been roiled in recent months by nationwide protests sparked by the death of a young woman while she was being held in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Tehran has blamed Israel, the United States, and other Western countries for the unrest, which has seen security forces kill more than 500 people, according to human rights groups, including dozens of minors.

Officials have not shown any evidence to back up their accusations that the West has been involved in the anti-government uprising.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Hungary Would Not Arrest Putin Under ICC Warrant, Says Orban's Chief Of Staff

Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff (file photo)

Hungary would not arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he entered the country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said, adding that it would have no legal grounds. Hungary signed and ratified the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued an arrest warrant accusing Putin of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. But when asked if Putin would be arrested if he came to Hungary, Gergely Gulyas told a briefing that the Rome Statute had not been built into the Hungarian legal system. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Prosecution Witness At Trial Of Navalny Associate In Bashkortostan Says She Was Pressured

Lilia Chanysheva (right) with Aleksei Navalny in 2021.

UFA, Russia -- A prosecution witness at the high-profile trial of Lilia Chanysheva, the former leader of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Republic of Bashkortostan, has testified in court that she has been pressured by officers of the Interior Ministry's anti-extremist directorate.

The witness said at a hearing on March 22 that investigators also tried to recruit her as an informant during the preliminary investigations of Chanysheva’s case, Chanysheva's lawyer, Sergei Makarenko, told RFE/RL on March 23.

"The judge had to call a five-minute break after one of the witnesses started crying while answering questions. She said after she calmed down that the investigators imposed serious psychological pressure on her during a preliminary investigation, threatening her with repercussions. The witness also testified that she does not consider Chanysheva's activities in the Ufa headquarters of Navalny’s team illegal, emphasizing that Chanysheva is not guilty," Makarenko said.

Navalny's team said in a post on Telegram that the witness also testified that officers from the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism directorate forced her to sign a recruitment agreement, according to which she was supposed to become an informant with a monthly salary of 12,000 rubles ($155), about which she said she immediately informed Chanysheva at the time.

The witness, whose identity RFE/RL chose not to disclose, told RFE/RL that she was "ashamed" to testify at the trial.

"I am just horrified that I was even summoned to the trial. I thought I would manage to avoid the disgrace. I consider it torture of my conscience.... I actually answered all the questions of the investigator honestly, because Lilia [Chanysheva] did not do anything illegal. I know her as a decent person, and certainly I said at the trial that I consider the charges against her to be without grounds," the witness said.

She added that she "wanted to offer apologies to Lilia for this shame."

"I was not strong enough to keep silent during questioning. I chose my own safety, and now I wake up every day with these thoughts," the woman said.

Makarenko said the judge agreed with a prosecutor's request at the trial that the incident with the witness would not be shared with media, but he decided to make the situation public.

Chanysheva, 41, who was arrested in November, headed the local unit of Navalny's network of regional campaign groups until his team disbanded them after a Moscow prosecutor went to court to have them branded "extremist."

The court accepted the prosecutor's request, effectively outlawing the group.

Chanysheva's defense team said at the time that her arrest was the first since the movement was banned. The charges appear to be retroactive since the organization she worked for disbanded before it had been legally classified as extremist.

In January, Amnesty International urged Russian authorities to release Chanysheva "immediately," insisting that the extremism charges are absurd and should be dropped.

Navalny himself has been in prison since February last year, while several of his associates have been charged with establishing an extremist group. Many of his associates have fled the country.

Lawyer Who Defended Jailed RFE/RL Journalist Ihar Losik Handed 15-Day Jail Term

Artsyom Syamyanau

Artsyom Syamyanau, a Belarusian lawyer who defended jailed RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik, was sentenced to 15 days in jail on March 22 on a charge of disobeying requests by authorities. A day earlier, Syamyanau and several other Belarusian lawyers who have defended journalists and opposition politicians in Belarus were detained in Minsk. Details of the detentions remain unclear. Syamyanau also defended Valyantsin Stefanovich of the Vyasna (Spring) human rights center who, along with Vyasna's chairman, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Byalyatski, and another colleague, Uladzimer Labkovich, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms earlier this month. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Belarusian Journalist Gets Three-Year Prison Sentence Over Article About Deadly KGB Raid

Belarusian journalist Henadz Mazheyka (file photo)

MINSK -- A Belarusian journalist who wrote about a deadly raid by officers of the Committee of State Security (KGB) on a Minsk apartment in September 2021 has been sentenced to three years in prison.

On March 23, the Minsk City Court sentenced Henadz Mazheyka, a former correspondent for the Belarusian edition of the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, after finding him guilty of inciting social hatred and insulting authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Mazheyka was arrested in October after he was extradited from Russia. He was initially charged with inciting social hatred. Investigators said later they had found audio of Mazheyka “insulting Lukashenka” and filed an additional charge against the journalist.

Mazheyka is one of dozens of Belarusians detained across the country on similar charges related to a shooting in Minsk in late September 2021 in which an IT worker and a KGB officer died.

The arrests were connected to comments posted on social media about the incident.

Belarusian authorities blocked Komsomolskaya Pravda's website after Mazheyka's article was published about Andrey Zeltsar, an employee of the U.S.-based EPAM Systems IT company, who was shot dead during the incident.

In the article, a classmate of Zeltsar remembers him as a decent person.

Little is known about the shooting, during which Zeltsar allegedly shot and killed KGB officer Dzmitry Fedasyuk.

Authorities claimed at the time that “an especially dangerous criminal” had opened fire on security officers after they showed up at his apartment looking for “individuals involved in terrorist activities.”

Lukashenka has issued thinly veiled threats to people who post comments on social media praising Zeltsar and criticizing Fedasyuk, saying, "We have all their accounts, and we can see who is who."

Multiple individuals have received prison terms in recent months on charges related to comments about the incident.

Russia-Installed Law Enforcement Officers In Annexed Crimea Detain Crimean Tatar Activist, Son

It is not clear why and on what charges the search and the detentions were based. (illustrative photo)

Russia-installed law enforcement officers in Ukraine's Moscow-annexed Crimea have detained Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Mustafayev and his son after searching their home on March 23, the Crimean Solidarity human right groups said. It is not clear why and on what charges the search and the detentions were based. Since illegally annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia has imposed pressure on Crimean Tatars, the peninsula's indigenous ethnic group, many of whom openly protested the annexation. Dozens of Crimean Tatars have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms by Russian authorities on extremism charges since then. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities, click here.

Moscow Research Institute 'Postpones' Meeting With Nobel Laureate Muratov Amid Protests By War Supporters

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov

MOSCOW -- The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MFTI) says a planned meeting of its lecturers and students with Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov has been postponed amid online protests against the meeting by supporters of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Muratov, the editor in chief of the independent newspaper Novaya gazeta and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, has openly called for Moscow to stop its war against Ukraine.

MFTI Rector Dmitry Livanov said in a March 23 statement that the forum with Muratov -- titled Conflict Of Generations After February 24 -- was postponed as "it was impossible to avoid politicizing the talk."

The discussion was scheduled for March 28. February 24 refers to the day the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

"Despite huge interest among [MFTI staff and students] for the talk with Dmitry [Muratov], just the announcement of the event caused a storm of negative emotions, mostly from people who have nothing to do with MFTI," Livanov's statement said. "I would like to emphasize that Dmitry Muratov was not added to the Russian Justice Ministry’s registry of foreign agents and there are no legal obstacles either for his talking with students, nor his teaching activities."

Livanov's statement came two days after several Telegram channels supporting Russias war in Ukraine called to cancel the meeting with Muratov, accusing him of having a pro-Ukrainian stance.

Muratov said in an interview with the Novaya gazeta Europe Telegram channel that when he was invited to the meeting at the MFTI in January he anticipated such a reaction from what he called "ultras."

"I surely understand the reason why the university informed me and the students about the postponement of the meeting," Muratov said.

Last month, the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court decision to withdraw the licenses of Muratov's Novaya gazeta newspaper and its Novaya rasskaz-gazeta magazine, two of the last independent media outlets in the country, amid a crackdown on the free press during the Kremlin's war against Ukraine.

Damage Being Assessed After Earthquakes Rock Tajikistan

The first quake, 5.8 on the Richter scale, hit late on March 22 northeast of the capital at a depth of 10 kilometers. (illustrative photo)

DUSHANBE -- A pair of earthquakes rocked Tajikistan overnight, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said, shaking buildings in Dushanbe. The EMSC said the first quake, 5.8 on the Richter scale, hit late on March 22 northeast of the capital at a depth of 10 kilometers. Hours later, on March 23, people were sent back out into the streets as a 4.5-magnitude earthquake again shook buildings. There were no immediate reports of damages or casualties. The earthquakes were also felt in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.


Zelenskiy Tours Kherson, As Ukrainian Military Points To Signs Of Russian 'Exhaustion' In Bakhmut

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) walks along a street as he visits Kherson on March 23.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on March 23 visited the partially occupied southern region of Kherson as Kyiv's forces continued to battle Russian troops in the east amid what the Ukrainian military said were the first signs of Russian "exhaustion" in the fierce fighting for the city of Bakhmut.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Ukrainian defenders repelled 83 Russian attacks over the past 24 hours, most of them directed at Bakhmut, the city in the Donetsk region that has become the epicenter of Moscow's offensive in the east, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its morning bulletin on March 23.

Russians kept their pressure on other settlements in Donetsk, such as Lyman, Avdiyivka, Maryinka, and Shakhtarsk, the military said, adding that "the enemy is losing a significant amount of manpower, weapons, and military equipment."

The claims could not be independently verified.

General Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said on March 23 that the Russians' relentless push in Bakhmut is beginning to take its toll on their strength and that Ukrainians are preparing to take advantage of their enemy's perceived weakness "very soon."

"The aggressor has not given up hope of taking Bakhmut whatever the cost, despite losses in manpower and equipment. Russia's main fighting force in this area is the Wagner mercenary group," Syrskiy said on Telegram.

"Not sparing anything, they are losing significant strength and becoming fatigued. Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, like we did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balaklia and Kupyansk," he said.

British military intelligence has also suggested that Moscow's relentless pressure on Bakhmut, which has been mostly turned to rubble, is beginning to lose momentum in the face of Ukraine's staunch defense amid serious losses sustained by both sides.

But Serhiy Cherevatiy, a spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, cautioned that Bakhmut is still seeing intense combat.

"So far, Bakhmut remains the epicenter of hostilities, the main target of the enemy's attack," Cherevatiy told national television, answering a question about whether the Russian offensive near Bakhmut has weakened.

Cherevatiy added that the second-most intense fighting was taking place on the alignment between Kupyansk, in the Kharkiv region, and Lyman, in Donetsk.

Zelenskiy on March 23 visited Kherson, one of four regions that Moscow has groundlessly claimed to have annexed, pledging to restore the region's badly damaged infrastructure as fast as possible.

"We will try to rebuild before winter. Our priority is to restore electricity. Drinking water will also be provided according to the schedule.... I believe that everything will be fine," Zelenskiy said, according to the Ukrainian presidency's webpage.

Zelenskiy's visit to Kherson, the site of a Ukrainian counteroffensive that liberated much of the region in November, marked his second trip to Ukrainian regions in as many days, after he met troops near Bakhmut on March 22, handing them decorations and visiting a military medical facility in the northern Kharkiv region.

WATCH: Residents who have remained in the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiyivka are now deciding to move somewhere safer as danger grows. The badly battered municipality has seen growing Russian artillery shelling. As the enemy makes small gains in areas around Avdiyivka, Ukrainian soldiers, medics, and police remain committed.

Remaining Avdiyivka Residents Told To Evacuate Amid Russian Shelling
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His visits came after Russian air strikes on Ukrainian cities killed at least 10 people, at least eight of them when two dormitories were hit at a school in Rzhyshchiv, south of Kyiv, and one in Kherson city, where missiles struck a cardiology hospital.

Zelenskiy said Moscow's indiscriminate attacks on civilians shows Russia is not interested in peace and accused Russia of "bestial savagery" for targeting civilians.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear to be interested in immediate peace and was engaged "in a war of attrition."

In an interview with The Guardian, the NATO chief said Putin was “reaching out to authoritarian regimes like Iran or North Korea and others to try to get more weapons.”

He said Russia was boosting its military production capacity and cautioned that Ukraine's Western allies must be prepared to supply Kyiv with weapons, ammunition, and military equipment for a long period of time.

“President Putin doesn’t plan for peace. He’s planning for more war,” Stoltenberg said.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa

IOC's Bach Defends Stance On Russian, Belarusian Athletes Amid Pro-Ukraine Protest

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach (file photo)

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on March 22 defended the IOC's efforts to create a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition. Bach reiterated the IOC's position that it would be discriminatory to exclude Russians and Belarusians based on citizenship alone and argued that the Olympics can help promote dialogue. German Public broadcaster WDR reported that nearly 200 pro-Ukraine protesters gathered outside the venue where Bach spoke, calling for Russia to be excluded from the Olympics. The IOC has argued in favor of letting the two countries' athletes compete as neutrals. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Urges Brussels To Speed Up EU Enlargement Process

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Sarajevo on March 22

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has spoken out in favor of EU enlargement, saying that, if the countries in the Western Balkans were already in the European Union, migration problems could be handled more efficiently.

During a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina on March 22, Szijjarto said that, if the Western Balkans were already EU territory, “we could deal with the problems and difficulties of migration that we face today much more efficiently, and the EU would be stronger.”

More than 265,000 migrants were stopped on Hungary’s southern border last year, Szijjarto said, adding that migration is the main point of cooperation between the Hungarian Interior Ministry and the Bosnian Security Ministry.

“We know that the better and more efficient the cooperation in the Western Balkan countries, the more efficient the migration management is," he said.

Hungary also wants the EU enlargement process to speed up because the stability of Bosnia “is also of great importance for us.”

The EU has promised Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia closer relations, but the integration process has been stalled for years. The EU last admitted a new member, Croatia, in 2013.

“We expect Brussels to take concrete steps on the path of faster accession of [Bosnia] to the EU," Szijjarto said after meeting with Bosnian Foreign Minister Elmedin Konakovic in Sarajevo.

He also addressed sanctions imposed by the EU on Western Balkan countries, saying they had been unsuccessful. Szijjarto's comments echoed those of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has called for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia imposed over its war in Ukraine.

Critics have said Hungary's position on sanctions has placed short-term economic issues ahead of long-term security, democracy, and human rights.

Szijjarto added that Bosnia and Hungary achieved trade worth 600 million euros ($652 million) last year, which is an increase of 20 percent compared to the previous year.

Konakovic said that cooperation with Hungary is good, the volume of trade is growing, and new opportunities are opening up. He also thanked Szijjarto for supporting Bosnia’s EU candidate status and said Hungarian experts are helping Bosnia in the process.

Szijjarto said later at an energy summit in Trebinje that Hungary does not intend to stop purchasing natural gas from Russia. In the current geopolitical situation, a safe supply of natural gas to Hungary is impossible without Russian sources, he said.

"We are trying to diversify the supply, but with the purchase also from Russia. This is in our interest," said Szijjarto.

After Russia launched its war on Ukraine in February 2022, Brussels imposed several rounds of sanctions limiting the sale of Russian oil and natural gas in Western markets but allowed some carve outs for pipeline deliveries.

Szijjarto said that Hungarians want peace in Ukraine, but Budapest is in a specific situation regarding energy. He added that Hungary needs more time for its diversification efforts to be successful.

Konakovic said Bosnia is very eager to cooperate in the field of energy with all stakeholders.

Christian Schmidt, the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, also met with Szijjarto during his visit to Sarajevo. They discussed political developments in Bosnia with emphasis on the country’s progress toward Euro-Atlantic integration.

With reporting by Ermin Zatega from RFE/RL's Balkan Service in Sarajevo.

Russian Orthodox Church Shares Blame For 'Crimes' In Ukraine, Says Ecumenical Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (file photo)

The spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians said on March 22 that Russia's Orthodox Church shared responsibility for the conflict in Ukraine. "The church and the state leadership in Russia cooperated in the crime of aggression and shared the responsibility for the resulting crimes, like the shocking abduction of the Ukrainian children," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said at a conference in Vilnius. The comments are a rebuke of Russian Patriarch Kirill, whose blessing for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has splintered the Orthodox Church. Russian authorities are using the church as an "instrument for their strategic objectives," Bartholomew said. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Maria Pevchikh Named Chief Of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation After Volkov Stepped Down

Maria Pevchikh (file photo)

Maria Pevchikh has been named chairwoman of Aleksei Navalny's International Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF International) after Leonid Volkov announced his decision to suspend his political and public activities over a letter he signed arguing for lifting EU sanctions on some Russian oligarchs.

Navalny's social networks said on March 22 that Pevchikh is now the new leader of ACF International.

Pevchikh, who lives outside Russia, first became known as an associate of Navalny in 2020 when Navalny was poisoned with what European laboratries later determined was a Novichok-type nerve agent. She was leading the Navalny group’s investigative department at the time and was involved in the team’s most high-profile investigative reports revealing corruption among Russia’s top officials, including President Vladimir Putin.

"Her public work over the past two years has made her a bright political leader," Navalny said on Twitter. "You know her well, and I have no doubt that she will do a fine job in her new capacity as well."

Pevchikh was one of the producers of a film about Navalny that won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards earlier this month.

Volkov, who currently resides in an unspecified EU country, announced the suspension of his activities on March 9 after making "a big political mistake" by signing the letter regarding several London-based oligarchs.

The letter addressed to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell asked for sanctions imposed over Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine on Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, German Khan, and Aleksei Kuzmichyov to be lifted.

The four businessmen are considered antiwar and have contributed to helping Ukraine and humanitarian causes. But they have not openly and clearly condemned the Kremlin's invasion in what some say is out of fear for their businesses in Russia.

Navalny, who is currently in prison serving sentences widely considered to be politically motivated, commented on Volkov's situation on March 22, saying that "Volkov made a mistake" and "took responsibility for it."

"I am grateful to Leonid for his quick and responsible reaction within the spirit of our principles. This is very important.... I also want to apologize to supporters, ACF donors, and the advisory board. We have corrected this mistake, but there has been a mistake, which makes me also responsible for it," Navalny's statement said.

The opposition politician also emphasized his group’s "full commitment to the idea of imposing sanctions against" Putin and his associates.

Volkov's announcement came after Aleksei Venediktov, who headed Ekho Moskvy, one of Russia's leading media outlets until it was taken off the air in March 2022 amid a Russian crackdown on independent media covering the invasion of Ukraine, published Volkov’s letter to Borrell. It was also signed by several self-exiled Russian journalists, public figures, and politicians.

Venediktov also published another letter also signed by Volkov and others that urged the European Commission to lift sanctions imposed on the Russian businessmen.

Volkov initially denied he signed the letter, claiming that his signature was forged. However, he later admitted to signing both of the letters.

Venediktov's decision to publish the letters appeared to be retaliation for an investigative report issued earlier by Navalny's group that listed Venediktov among pro-Kremlin journalists who received significant sums of money from Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

Venediktov accepted that his company, Education-21st Century, had received money from the Moscow mayor's office for a project that was stopped right after the Justice Ministry labeled Venediktov a "foreign agent."

Ban On Russian, Belarusian Ice Hockey Teams Extended Through 2023-24 Season

The International Ice Hockey Federation suspended all Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from international events following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year. (file photo)

The ice hockey teams of Russia and Belarus will be barred from taking part in international competitions in the 2023-24 season, the sport's governing body said on March 22 citing safety concerns. The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) council determined that it is not yet safe to reincorporate the Russian and Belarusian teams back into IIHF competitions, the council said in a statement. The IIHF suspended all Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from international events following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year. It later moved the 2023 world championships out of St. Petersburg. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Ukraine's Recovery And Reconstruction Needs Will Cost $411 Billion, Says World Bank

The estimate quantifies the direct physical damage to infrastructure and buildings as well as other costs caused by Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Rebuilding Ukraine's economy after Russia's invasion more than a year ago is now expected to cost $411 billion, a new study by the World Bank, United Nations, European Commission, and Ukraine found. The estimate released on March 22 covers the period spanning one year from Russia's invasion and quantifies the direct physical damage to infrastructure and buildings, the impact on people's lives, and the cost to "build back better," the World Bank said. The amount is 2.6 times Ukraine's expected 2022 gross domestic product and is up sharply from an estimate of $349 billion released last September. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

International Criminal Court Regrets 'Threats' After Putin Arrest Warrant

The legislative body of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on March 22 that it regretted "threats" against the tribunal over its war crimes arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly talked about targeting The Hague with a hypersonic missile as a reprisal for the warrant, according to Dutch media. Moscow says it has opened a criminal investigation into ICC prosecutor Karim Khan and several judges over the "unlawful" decision to seek Putin's arrest over the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children.

Father, Brother Of Russian Activist Barred From Entering Russia For 50 Years

Besides his stance against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Arshak Makichyan has also actively campaigned for action on climate change. (file photo)

A Russian rights watchdog, Pervy Otdel (the First Unit), on March 22 cited the Federal Security Service as saying that the father and brother of self-exiled activist Arshak Makichyan have been barred from entering Russia for 50 years. A Russian court in October stripped Makichyan and his father, Artur, and brother, Gagik, of their citizenship. Arshak Makichyan, who is currently in Germany, said the court’s decision to strip him and his relatives of citizenship was linked to his position against the war in Ukraine. Arshak Makichyan is originally from Armenia but lived almost all his life in Russia. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Andrew Tate To Remain In Romanian Detention For 30 More Days

Controversial online personality Andrew Tate (file photo)

A Romanian court has ruled for the fourth time to extend by 30 days the preventative arrest of Andrew Tate, the divisive social media influencer who is held on suspicion of organized crime and human trafficking. Tate, 36, a British-U.S. citizen who has 5.4 million Twitter followers, was initially detained in late December in Bucharest, along with his brother Tristan and two Romanian women. None of the four has yet been formally indicted. A spokesperson for Romania’s anti-organized crime agency, DIICOT, said that a judge at the Bucharest Tribunal agreed to keep all four detained while investigations continue. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Concerts By Russian Rock Groups Canceled In Rostov-On-Don Over Anti-War Statements

The lead singer of the Mashina Vremeni rock band, Andrei Makarevich, who has been labeled as a "foreign agent." (file photo)

Authorities in Russia's southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border, have canceled scheduled summer concerts of several popular rock groups -- including Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), DDT, and Mumii Troll -- over their public statements condemning Moscow's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Mashina Vremeni's leader, Andrei Makarevich, was labeled as a "foreign agent" in November. DDT's leader, Yury Shevchuk, was fined last year for criticizing the war in Ukraine at a concert by his group. Mumii Troll's members have also called for an end to the war. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian University Student Expelled For Commemorating Writer Killed By Soviet Regime

Viktor Novogorsky (file photo)

A university in Russia's Mari El region has expelled Viktor Novogorsky, an activist of the Mari Ushem (Union Of Mari People) organization, after he took part in a commemoration of the founder of the Mari people's literature, Sergei Chavain, who was executed by Josef Stalin's regime in 1937.

Novogorsky wrote on the VK social network on March 22 that the Mari State University in the republic's capital, Yoshkar-Ola, justified its decision to expel him as due to his "underperformance."

However, Novogorsky insists that his performance at the university was very high, as borne out in the school registry that shows his academic progress.

Novogorsky also posted an official letter from the Mari Ushem organization addressed to Russia's Higher Education Ministry and Mari El education officials, asking them to intervene in the situation and make the university reconsider the decision to expel him.

"We are confident that Viktor Novogorsky was expelled over his social activities and statements he placed on his social network accounts. Neither his articles, nor his statements contain anything that would contradict Russian laws and norms laid out in the Criminal or Administrative codes," the letter says, and demands the immediate cancellation of the university's decision to expel Novogorsky.

In November 2022, Novogorsky and another Mari activist, Kyrlya Lyzhin, held an action to commemorate Chavain by laying flowers under his bust in Yoshkar-Ola, visiting the memorial of victims of political repressions, and standing next to Chavain's monument for one hour.

In recent years, Mari Ushem activist have complained that the authorities were trying to restrict the practice of the Mari people's ancient religion, and attempts to preserve their culture and Finnish-Uralic language.

Tensions over languages in Russian regions with large populations of indigenous ethnic groups have increased since 2017, when President Vladimir Putin said children in those regions must not be forced to learn languages that are not their mother tongues, and ordered prosecutors to determine whether that was taking place.

That led officials to abolish mandatory indigenous-language classes in the regions.

The move caused an outcry in ethnic republics and regions where local languages have official status alongside Russian.

Around 52 percent of the 700,000 residents of the Mari El region in the Volga Federal Territory are ethnic Mari. Their traditional religion is based on worshipping forces of nature.

U.K. Inquiry Vows To Get To Bottom Of Afghan Extrajudicial Killings Allegations

The chair of a public inquiry examining "extremely serious" allegations that British armed forces carried out dozens of extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan said on March 22 that any soldiers who had broken the law should face investigation. The independent inquiry was ordered by Britain's Defense Ministry in December 2022 after a BBC TV documentary reported that soldiers from the elite Special Air Service (SAS) had killed 54 people in suspicious circumstances. It also came after two families, who accuse the SAS of killing their relatives in 2011 and 2012, began legal action to demand judicial reviews of their cases. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Kazakh Journalist Jailed After Expressing Plans To Hold Rally Against Election Results

Duman Mukhammedkarim speaks to a reporter in Almaty in October 2022.

Kazakh journalist Duman Mukhammedkarim was handed a 25-day jail term on March 21 after he announced his plan to hold a rally to protest the official results of parliamentary and local elections held over the weekend. Mukhammedkarim's lawyer, Ghalym Nurpeiisov, said his client was jailed on a charge of violating the laws on mass gatherings. The ruling Amanat party won a majority in the general elections on March 19. International observers said the polls showed some progress over previous votes, while several opposition politicians claimed that the balloting was unfair. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

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