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India Holds War Games Near Pakistan

Indian and Pakistani flags
Indian and Pakistani flags
POKHRAN, India (Reuters) -- Indian fighter jets pounded mock enemy bunkers close to the Pakistan border in a symbolic show of air power at a time when the two nuclear-armed rivals are trying to improve relations.

The exercise on February 28 was watched by military attaches from about 30 countries but not Pakistan and China, neighbors who would be keen to take a look at India's military firepower.

It follows the first official talks between India and Pakistan since the militant attacks in Mumbai in 2008.The talks ended with an agreement to keep in touch, signaling relations remain fraught despite a desire to reopen a dialogue that India suspended after the Mumbai killings.

"This is not just a firepower demonstration but a clear message about what India's air force is capable of," said Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic affairs expert. "It is a message to the neighbors."

Tensions between India and Pakistan are a problem by themselves but the stakes have risen further with their roles in the war in Afghanistan.

In the February 28 war games, planes including Sukhois and MiG 21s, roared through the sky, bombing simulated enemy targets including militant training camps and bunkers.

President Pratibha Patil and Defence Minister A.K. Antony watched as targets were hit with bombs and rockets, raising huge balls of fire and dust in the deserts of Pokhran, the site of India's nuclear testing facility.

Defense officials said the exercise would test the air force's ability at precision bombing of militant camps, particularly those behind enemy lines.

India accuses Pakistan of letting militant groups use its territory to train and launch attacks on India, such as the Mumbai raid that killed 166 people.

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Earthquake Rocks Kazakhstan's Largest City, Almaty; No Casualties Reported

Emergency officials said the earthquake did not lead to casualties or serious infrastructure or building damage, but it did cause panic among residents.
Emergency officials said the earthquake did not lead to casualties or serious infrastructure or building damage, but it did cause panic among residents.

ALMATY -- Authorities in Kazakhstan said an earthquake with a magnitude of 5 hit the Central Asian nation’s largest city, Almaty, on March 4. Emergency officials said the earthquake did not lead to casualties or serious infrastructure or building damage, but it did cause panic among residents. Some buildings showed cracks and windows were broken, but no major incidents were reported. All schools, kindergartens, and university classes were canceled, while subway services were suspended. City officials set up almost 400 sites for residents to shelter until the evening. The earthquake was also felt in Bishkek, the capital of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, and other Kyrgyz cities. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Russia's Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Rejecting Anti-War Candidate From Running For President

Boris Nadezhdin
Boris Nadezhdin

The Appeal Board of the Russian Supreme Court on March 4 has rejected anti-war presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin’s appeal of a Central Election Commission (TsIK) decision barring him from registering for the March 15-17 presidential election. The Uzbekistan-born 60-year-old academic and former lawmaker made the announcement on Telegram. The Supreme Court last month rejected two other appeals he had lodged over the TsIK’s decision to bar him from the vote. He then filed cases over TsIK decisions related to the collection of signatures on petitions to register his candidacy. The court said that with its latest ruling, the TsIK's decisions now come into force.

Newly Enlarged NATO Begins Military Exercises In Finland, Norway, Sweden

Swedish soldiers take part in the changing-of-the-guard ceremony in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Stockholm on February 24.
Swedish soldiers take part in the changing-of-the-guard ceremony in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Stockholm on February 24.

NATO will kick off an exercise on March 4 to defend its newly expanded Nordic territory when more than 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations take part in drills lasting nearly two weeks in the northern regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. With over 4,000 Finnish soldiers taking part, the Norway-led Nordic Response 2024 represents the NATO newcomer's largest-ever participation in a foreign exercise, according to Finland's military. Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, joined NATO in April 2023. With its bid now ratified by all NATO members, neighboring Sweden is currently finalizing formalities to enter the military alliance as its 32nd member — most likely in March.

Updated

Explosion Closes Railway Bridge In Russia's Samara Region

An explosion early on March 4 damaged a railway bridge in Russia’s south-central Samara region, causing Russian authorities to suspend traffic on the line. The Baza Telegram channel reported that the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device. No one was reported injured in the blast. Ukraine’s military intelligence wrote on Telegram that the bridge was disabled by an explosion and will be “impossible to use for a long time.” The agency added that the rail line was used to transport military supplies, particularly ammunition produced by a factory in the Samara region city of Chapayevsk. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Wagner Mercenary Charged With Raping Woman After Returning From War In Ukraine

The rape suspect signed a contract to fight with the Wagner mercenary group in 2022. (file photo)
The rape suspect signed a contract to fight with the Wagner mercenary group in 2022. (file photo)

A Russian mercenary who fought with the private military company Wagner in Ukraine has been arrested in Kirov in connection with the rape of a 22-year-old woman. The suspect, Dmitry Efimov, also set the car in which he allegedly committed the rape on fire to cover his tracks, according to sources quoted by the news outlet Baza. The police say Efimov forced a resident of Kirov into someone else’s car in a garage and raped her on February 24. Efimov, who was convicted of rape in 2013 and murder in 2019, signed a contract to fight with Wagner in 2022. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

OPEC+ Members Extend Oil Output Cuts Into Second Quarter

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said says his country will be cutting oil production by an additional 471,000 barrels per day. (file photo)
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said says his country will be cutting oil production by an additional 471,000 barrels per day. (file photo)

OPEC+ members led by Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed on March 3 to extend voluntary oil output cuts into the second quarter. Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said it would extend its voluntary cut of through the end of June. Russia, which leads OPEC allies collectively known as OPEC+, will cut oil production and exports by an additional 471,000 barrels per day in the second quarter in coordination with some OPEC+ participating countries, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said.

Zelenskiy Calls On World To Help Ukraine Defeat 'Russian Evil' As Death Toll From Strike On Odesa Climbs To 12

Rescuers remove the body of a local resident from an apartment building in Odesa that was heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike on March 2.
Rescuers remove the body of a local resident from an apartment building in Odesa that was heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike on March 2.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on March 3 for the world to help Kyiv defeat "Russian evil" as the death toll from a Russian drone strike on Odesa rose to 12, including several children.

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 counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

"Every Russian loss at the front is our country's response to Russian terror. The world must respond to every manifestation of Russian evil and repel Russia's actions," Zelenskiy said after rescuers ended their search for victims in the rubble of the attack on Odesa.

He said later in his nightly video address that political will is required to make sure Ukraine has enough supplies, in an apparent reference to a crucial multibillion-dollar aid package that remains stalled in the U.S. Congress amid partisan bickering.

The war "must become hopeless for Russia.... They must sense that there is force that destroys those who seek to destroy life," Zelenskiy said.

"If this doesn’t happen and America [and] Europe lose to Iranian Shaheds or Russian jets, it will go down in history as one of the most shameful chapters. Evil should never be encouraged. Neither by weak decisions, delays in supplies, nor indecision," Zelenskiy said.

The Russian drone hit an apartment block in Odesa early on March 2, partially destroying several floors and leaving more than a dozen people under the rubble.

The attack killed at least four children, including two babies less than 1 year old, according to statements by Zelenskiy and the regional governor.

"Mark, who was not even 3 years old, Yelyzaveta, 8 months old, and Timofey, 4 months old," Zelenskiy said, naming the youngest victims on Telegram. "Ukrainian children are Russia's military targets."

The bodies of a 10-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister were found under the rubble on March 3, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said.

Ukraine's emergency services said they had found the bodies of families huddled together as they sifted through the rubble.

"A mother tried to cover her 8-month-old baby with her body. They were found in a tight embrace," the agency said on Telegram.

March 3 has been declared a day of mourning in Odesa and the region for those killed during the drone attack on the city.

According to rescuers, 18 apartments of a nine-story building in Odesa were destroyed in the air strike that the Ukrainian Air Force said occurred overnight on March 2 and also hit the Mykolayiv region.

Zelenskiy on March 2 pleaded with Kyiv's Western allies to supply more air-defense systems as Russia continues to pound Ukraine with drones, missiles, and artillery fire while the civilian death toll continues to mount. The United Nations has verified at least 10,000 civilian deaths since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

There was no comment on the attack in Moscow, which denies targeting civilians despite ample evidence of Russian strikes on residential areas.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported a separate attack in the southern Kherson region that it said killed one person and wounded three others. Officials also reported an air strike on a residential quarter of Kurakhove, a town in the eastern Donetsk region, which injured 16.

Meanwhile, Russian military bloggers reported an attempted massive Ukrainian drone attack on the illegally annexed peninsula of Crimea.

Moscow said it shot down 38 Ukrainian drones, while the Rybar Telegram channel, which is close to Russia's armed forces, said one hit a pipeline at an oil depot.

An adviser to Crimea's Kremlin-installed leader said traffic was halted early on March 3 along a highway near Feodosia, the site of the earlier explosion. More than eight hours later, Crimea's local transport minister reported that traffic had partially resumed.

A bridge that connects Crimea to Russian territory was also closed to traffic for about two hours early on March 3.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Leaked Recording Of German Military Call On Taurus Missiles Is Part Of Putin's 'Information War,' Says Minister

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius talks to journalists on March 3 following the apparent leak of a confidential call between high-ranking military officers.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius talks to journalists on March 3 following the apparent leak of a confidential call between high-ranking military officers.

Berlin accused Russia on March 3 of trying to sow disunity following the leak of a confidential conference call between high-ranking German military staff discussing the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles by 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 counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

A recording of the call between the commander in chief of the German Air Force, General Ingo Gerhartz, and Brigadier General Frank Graefe, along with two Bundeswehr officers was posted online on March 1 on Russian social media, initially by Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the Russian state-controlled RT media group, formerly known as Russia Today. Simonyan did not explain where she got the recording of the 38-minute call.

Ukraine has been asking Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500 kilometers away, giving Ukrainian forces a boost as Kyiv struggles to fend off Russia's full-scale invasion.

The German Defense Ministry confirmed on March 3 that a “conversation related to the Air Force” had been intercepted.

“Whether changes were made to the recorded oral or written version that is circulating on social media, we cannot say with certainty at this time,” a ministry spokesman said, according to German broadcaster ARD.

Representatives of the army told Germany's other public broadcaster, ZDF, that they considered the recording to be authentic.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the timing of the release of the recording was not a coincidence.

"It is about using this recording to destabilize and unsettle us," Pistorius said, speaking at a news briefing in Berlin on March 3.

“It is part of an information war that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is waging. There is absolutely no doubt about that,” he said at a news briefing in Berlin. “It is a hybrid attack aimed at disinformation. It is about division. It is about undermining our resolve.”

He said Germany should not “fall for Putin’s line” and the reaction should be "in a particularly level-headed manner, but no less resolutely.”

Pistorius added that he would await the result of a military probe into the case to decide what the consequences should be.

The recording includes a detailed discussion of how the German military can technically support the supply of Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine in the event of a decision by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to allow them to be sent.

Scholz has refused to send the missiles, fearing that it would lead to an escalation of the conflict, draw Germany more deeply into the fight, and potentially touch off the use of nuclear weapons by Russia.

The wiretapped exchange includes a discussion of whether the Taurus would theoretically be technically capable of destroying the bridge connecting Russia to the Crimean Peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

The discussion also addresses whether Ukraine could carry out the strike without the involvement of German armed forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 2 that the recording indicated that Ukraine and its backers "do not want to change their course at all and want to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield."

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the Security Council, went further, saying Germany “is preparing for war with Russia."

The discussion between the German military officers also covered the use of long-range missiles SCALP and Storm Shadow missiles provided to Kyiv by France and Britain each with a range of about 250 kilometers.

The audio recording also contains a diplomatically sensitive reference to the British having "a few people on the ground" in Ukraine in connection with the deployment of the Storm Shadow. Britain has denied that it had any direct involvement in operating the missiles.

Scholz on March 2 promised swift clarification of the incident, calling it a "very serious matter." But the fallout from the scandal continued on March 3 as members of the German parliament demanded consequences, including that German military leaders be trained in protected communications.

The discussion was vulnerable to wiretapping because the officers were not using an encrypted line, according to sources quoted by dpa. The sources said the discussion was hosted on Webex, a conferencing platform made by the U.S. tech giant Cisco.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Bild am Sonntag

Flowers Pile Up At Navalny's Gravesite As Mourners Line Up To Pay Respects For Third Straight Day

Mourners line up to visit the grave of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow on March 3.
Mourners line up to visit the grave of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow on March 3.

Hundreds of mourners lined up on March 3 to pay their respects to opposition politician Aleksei Navalny for the third day in a row at Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, where a mound of flowers has formed at the gravesite of the anti-corruption campaigner.

The line stretched for about 600 meters, according to the news outlet Astra, as people waited to honor Navalny, who was buried on March 1. Many carried flowers and messages to add to the huge pile of bouquets and mementos that have been laid at the gravesite.

People of all ages lined up, including children, young people, and elderly people, risking potential arrest.

Police were present but did not intervene, according to Meduza and other media reports. A police paddy wagon was parked near the entrance to the cemetery, but the police officers were not visible, Meduza reported. Other reports said police looked on, but the situation remained calm.

"Heroes do not die. Thank you Aleksei" was one of the slogans written on a poster at the grave, where wreaths and children's toys had also been placed, according to the dpa news agency. A Russian Orthodox cross with a photo of Navalny smiling stood out above the flowers.

Navalny, who was Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent foe, died on February 16 in an Arctic prison camp at the age of 47. The circumstances of his death have not been clarified.

Following his funeral, Navalny's team emphasized that the opposition will continue its fight against corruption and Putin’s power apparatus.

Navalny's legacy will remain alive "as long as there are millions of people in Russia and the world who are not indifferent to this," they said. "That's why we must not give up."

In the two days since his funeral, 105 people have been detained in 22 cities across the country in relation to events marking the dissident's death, the OVD-info human rights group reported on March 3. Around 20 were arrested in Novosibirsk alone. Hundreds of others were detained as they tried to publicly mourn him in the days after his death.

WATCH: Mourners Visit Aleksei Navalny's Grave On March 2

Hundreds Visit Navalny's Grave Under Police Surveillance
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The independent project White Counter, which counts the number of participants in mass events, wrote on March 2 that significantly more than 13,000 people took part in the farewell to Navalny on March 1.

According to the project’s estimates, in the first 90 minutes after his funeral service, at least 16,500 people walked across the Brateevsky Bridge from the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God, where Navalny’s funeral service was held, to the cemetery where he was buried.

Earlier, the pro-Kremlin publication Ridovka estimated the number of participants at 12,000, calling it small. Many people who came to bid farewell to Navalny chanted anti-war and anti-Putin slogans.

With reporting by dpa, Mediazona, and Astra

Russian Officials Say 6 Gunmen Killed In Ingushetia Shoot-Out

Six gunmen were killed in a shoot-out with police in the town of Karabulak in the Russian North Caucasus region of Ingushetia on March 2, law enforcement officials reported. The National Anti-Terrorism Committee said in a statement that the slain men were “a group of fighters planning crimes in the realm of terrorism.” Russian authorities claimed the men had ties to the Islamic State terrorist organization. The independent Baza Telegram channel reported on March 3 that only five of the slain men were gunmen, while the sixth was an uninvolved passerby. Baza also reported that three police officers were wounded. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Moscow Blocks Site Of Project Opposing Putin Reelection

The Noon Against Putin initiative is the brainchild of former St. Petersburg lawmaker Maksim Reznik (file photo)
The Noon Against Putin initiative is the brainchild of former St. Petersburg lawmaker Maksim Reznik (file photo)

Russia’s Roskomnadzor media-monitoring agency has blocked the website of an initiative to express opposition to President Vladimir Putin during the March 15-17 presidential election. The website of the Noon Against Putin project -- which urges those who oppose the Russian leader's bid to seek a fifth term as president in a noncompetitive poll to show up at polling stations precisely at 12pm to demonstrate their numbers -- was blocked by Moscow on March 2. Noon Against Putin is the brainchild of former St. Petersburg lawmaker Maksim Reznik and was endorsed by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny before his suspicious death in prison last month. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.

Pakistani Lawmakers Select Shehbaz Sharif As PM

Shehbaz Sharif (file photo)
Shehbaz Sharif (file photo)

Lawmakers in Pakistan elected Shehbaz Sharif, a younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister on March 3. Earlier, Nawaz Sharif declined to run for a fourth term, saying he did not want to head a coalition government. Shehbaz Sharif, 72, will resume the role he held until August when parliament was dissolved ahead of the elections held last month. Pakistan has had a caretaker government since then. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Updated

Zelenskiy Awaiting 'Concrete Proposals' As Syrskiy Completes Tour Of Front

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) in discussion with the chief of the country's General Staff Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy. (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) in discussion with the chief of the country's General Staff Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy. (file photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he is expecting a “detailed report and concrete proposals” from Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, who was named chief of the General Staff on February 9, early in the coming week.

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 counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

During his daily video address late on March 2, Zelenskiy noted that Syrskiy recently returned from a tour of the front and added that the General Staff has “carte blanche for personnel changes in the army or any changes at the headquarters.”

Earlier the same day, Syrskiy announced a reshuffling of commanders of several combat brigades, noting in a Telegram post that during his tour of the eastern part of the front he determined that “some brigades manage to hold back enemy attacks and hold their positions, while others do not.”

The announcements came shortly after Russian forces captured the Donetsk region city of Avdiyivka following a long and costly campaign and reports that Ukrainian defense forces are experiencing shortages of munitions amid declining Western aid.

Zelenskiy said he continues talks with Western partners on the provision of weapons and “the continuity of support.” A large package of U.S. military assistance has been stalled in Congress. The New York Times reported on February 29 that the Biden administration was considering providing munitions to Ukraine from existing stockpiles as a stopgap measure even though a fund to replenish those supplies has been exhausted.

“Ukraine has not asked for anything except what is needed to save lives,” Zelenskiy said. “It is impossible to understand how partners can let political games or disputers limit our defense while lives are being lost.”

“It is impossible to accept this,” he said. “And it will be impossible to forget it. The world will remember.”

Meanwhile, officials said the bodies of two more civilians killed in a Russian drone attack on the Black Sea port of Odesa on March 2 had been recovered from the rubble of a residential building, raising the death toll in the incident to 10. The bodies were of a woman and her eight-month-old baby, bringing the number of small children killed in the strike to three.

Officials have declared March 3 a day of mourning in the Odesa region.

In the early hours of March 3, air-raid warnings sounded in the Dnipropetrovsk region, but no casualties were reported in what was described as a “missile attack” in the Nikopol area.

On February 21, the United Nations reported that at least 10,582 Ukrainian civilians had been killed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, adding “it is likely the real number of civilian casualties is much higher.”

Slovak Foreign Minister Meets With Russia's Lavrov In Turkey

Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar (left) meets with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Antalya, Turkey, on March 2.
Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar (left) meets with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Antalya, Turkey, on March 2.

A senior member of Slovakia's government met his Russian counterpart on March 2 in a rare high-level encounter between an EU member state and a country that the bloc has sought to isolate. Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar held talks with Russia's Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in Turkey, the countries said. The meeting, one of the few involving senior European and Russian officials since Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, was immediately criticized by Slovak opposition parties. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has opposed sending military aid to Ukraine, said the encounter "was an example of our balanced and sovereign" foreign policy.

Armenia Says It's Willing To Sign Peace Deal With Baku, Normalize Relations With Turkey Under Right Conditions

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanian (file photo)
Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanian (file photo)

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanian said his Caucasus nation is willing to sign a peace deal with bitter rival Azerbaijan based on principles previously agreed upon by the two neighbors. He also said his country is prepared to normalize relations with Turkey, which is a close ally of Baku. Speaking on March 2 during a visit to the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey, Kostanian said any deal with Baku requires that both sides recognize each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty. He said Yerevan seeks full normalization of relations with Ankara, including the opening of their border and the establishment of diplomatic ties. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, click here.

Updated

Serbian Ruling Party Agrees To Hold New Belgrade Elections After Disputed Vote In December

Belgrade's acting mayor and the Serbian Progressive Party's vice president, Aleksandar Sapic, made the announcement on March 2.
Belgrade's acting mayor and the Serbian Progressive Party's vice president, Aleksandar Sapic, made the announcement on March 2.

BELGRADE -- Serbia's ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) said it will rerun the December 17 Belgrade municipal elections, a vote marred by widespread allegations of fraud and irregularities.

Aleksandar Sapic, acting mayor and SNS vice president, made the announcement on March 2 after a meeting of SNS leaders, saying that “we are not afraid” of a new vote in the capital.

"We raised the bar [of legitimacy]. We made a decision to our detriment, but we are not afraid," Sapic said.

The December 17 elections were held at the parliamentary and provincial levels and in 65 cities and municipalities in Serbia, including Belgrade.

In its February 28 report on the elections, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the voting was marked by irregularities, including the misuse of public funds and media dominance by President Aleksandar Vucic.

It stated that the elections "were dominated by the decisive participation of the president, which, together with the systemic advantages of the ruling party, created unfair conditions for the participants."

Other foreign and domestic observers also cited irregularities in the election process.

Serbian Opposition Cries Foul As Ruling Party Wins Snap Elections
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Street protests erupted following the elections as members of the pro-Europe opposition Serbia Against Violence coalition accused Vucic and the SNS of wide-scale fraud.

Vucic and his SNS allies denied the allegations, but Vucic nevertheless said he had asked for a new election. At a Belgrade news conference on March 2, Vucic called on the government to immediately start implementing the recommendations presented by the OSCE’s ODIHR unit.

The parliamentary speaker now has 30 days to set new elections.

In the December 17 vote, no grouping won enough votes to form a city government.

Belgrade's City Assembly has 110 councilors, and the SNS and its coalition partner Socialist Party of Serbia have a total of 54, leaving them two short of a majority. The Serbia Against Violence list has 43 councilors, while minor parties held the other seats.

The Serbia Against Violence coalition on March 2 said the decision to conduct a new vote in the capital was a "big victory for the opposition."

The nationalist Vucic has attempted to main good relations with the European Union -- which Serbia strives to join -- while keeping close ties to traditional ally Russia, even following the Kremlin's decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Updated

'We Need More Air Defenses,' Zelenskiy Says, As Russian Shelling, Drone Strikes Kill At Least 11

Rescuers work at the site of a Russian drone attack in Odesa on March 2.
Rescuers work at the site of a Russian drone attack in Odesa on March 2.

Russia and Ukraine exchanged apparent drone and missile attacks, with the deadliest of the latest Russian strikes hitting a high-rise residential building in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa, killing at least eight people, regional officials said.

Russian drone strikes on March 2 were also reported in the Ukrainian cities of Mykolayiv and Kharkiv, killing three people and injuring several others, while a suspected drone attack caused an explosion in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, with damage to a residential building and at least six injuries reported.

St. Petersburg Governor Aleksandr Beglov reported that an “incident” had occurred without giving a cause, saying some 100 residents were evacuated. St. Petersburg news outlet Fontanka reported that the blast was caused by a Ukrainian drone. Ukraine hasn’t commented.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said its forces shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Leningrad region near the Gulf of Finland and another in the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine. No casualties were reported.

The Russian shelling in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region killed a 76-year-old man in the early morning hours, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

In the Odesa attack, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said an apartment building had been hit, with an infant and 2-year-old boy among the dead. At least 10 people remain unaccounted for, officials said.

A resident of Odesa told RFE/RL that her sister and 3-month-old nephew were under the rubble of the nine-story building, but later the woman and the baby were found dead.

Children Among Odesa Residents Killed In Russian Drone Strike
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The violence occurred as Ukrainian officials continued to press their Western allies for more weapons -- particularly ammunition and air defense systems -- to fight against the latest moves by Russian forces to press their advantage on the battlefield.

"Russia continues to hit civilians," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on social media.

"We need more air defenses from our partners. We need to strengthen the Ukrainian air shield to add protection for our people from Russian terror. More air defense systems, more missiles for air defense systems will save lives," he said.

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 counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

Later, in his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said that "the world knows that terror can be opposed. Delaying the supply of weapons to Ukraine, missile defense systems to protect our people, leads, unfortunately, to such losses."

In the United States, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has put up opposition to additional military aid for Kyiv, leaving a gap of two months since the last U.S. military supplies reached Ukraine.

"If Ukraine gets the aid, they will win,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) said.

“If they don't get the aid, they will lose -- with dire consequences to the United States,” added Schumer, who visited Ukraine last week.

Meanwhile, the top diplomats of two other important allies – France and Germany – will meet on March 4 to discuss aid to Ukraine.

Paris has been an active supporter of Kyiv, providing SCALP missiles, and with French President Emmanuel Macron even saying he wouldn’t rule out the deployment of Western ground troops in Ukraine.

Germany, along with several other Western leaders, distanced themselves from that suggestion, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisting there would be no deployment of German ground troops.

In one reported success for Ukraine, General Mykola Oleshchuk, the Air Force commander, said on March 2 that his forces had shot down a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber with antiaircraft missiles.

Oleshchuk wrote in a Telegram post that "Air Command East confirms the downing of a fighter-bomber. Su-34. Unfortunately, only one."

Earlier, Oleshchuk reported the launch of missiles targeting two Russian jets – an Su-34 and Su-35. The claims could not be independently confirmed.

Kyiv has regularly reported the shooting down of Russian warplanes over Ukraine, seen by many as a major embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP

Berlin Investigates Russian Reports Of Recorded German Military Officials

RT chief Margarita Simonyan was the first to publish the audio recording on March 1. (file photo)
RT chief Margarita Simonyan was the first to publish the audio recording on March 1. (file photo)

Germany is investigating an audio recording, which was published in Russian media and reported to be a conference call involving high-ranking German military officials talking about weapons for Ukraine. The publication of the recording has sparked concerns of espionage in Germany and calls for clarification from Russia. A German Defense Ministry spokesperson said on March 2 that they couldn't confirm the authenticity of the recording. Margarita Simonyan, head of the Russian state-run broadcaster RT, was first to publish the audio on March 1. Reuters couldn't independently confirm its authenticity. Among other matters, participants in the call discuss the possible delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Kyiv, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz has publicly rejected thus far.

Drone Blamed For Blast In St. Petersburg Apartment Building

Rescue workers and investigators gather near a damaged residential building in St. Petersburg following an alleged drone attack on March 2
Rescue workers and investigators gather near a damaged residential building in St. Petersburg following an alleged drone attack on March 2

An explosion occurred on March 2 in a five-story apartment building in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, with the local media saying the blast was caused by a Ukrainian drone. No casualties were reported, but windows in the building were broken, balconies were twisted, debris fell in the courtyard, and windows in neighboring high-rise buildings were also smashed. St. Petersburg Governor Aleksandr Beglov reported an “incident,” without giving a cause, saying some 100 residents were evacuated. Fontanka reported that the blast was caused by a Ukrainian drone. Kyiv has not commented on the incident. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

At Least 20, Including 9 Children, Killed In Rain-Related Incidents In Pakistan

At least 20 people were killed and dozens were injured in rain-related incidents in two Pakistani provinces, rescue officials told RFERL’s Radio Mashaal. Most of the casualties were caused by collapsing roofs and landslides in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern Balochistan provinces over the past 24 hours. Seventeen people were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa -- among them, six children, according to Bilal Faizi, a provincial spokesperson for the rescue service. In Balochistan Province, at least three children were killed on March 1 as the roof of a house collapsed in the Kharan district. To read the original stories by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Zelenskiy Signs Miliary Aid Pact With Dutch PM, Discusses Speeding Up Delivery Of F-16s

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pose for photographers after signing a cooperation agreement in Kharkiv on March 1.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pose for photographers after signing a cooperation agreement in Kharkiv on March 1.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed gratitude to the Netherlands on March 1 for a new package of aid signed during a visit to Kharkiv by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

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Zelenskiy put the value of the arms pact at 2 billion euros ($2.17 billion) for the current year. The package was part of a security agreement signed by Rutte and Zelenskiy. It is the sixth agreement of this kind between Ukraine and a Western state.

Zelenskiy also said in a video address that the Netherlands would help secure the skies over Ukraine with its participation in the coalition of states supplying Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets as he and Rutte agreed to speed up the process of supplying Ukraine with the planes.

“Regarding the F-16: we are on schedule. This means that they will be in the Ukrainian sky later this year, but there is still a lot to be done,” Rutte said at a joint press conference with Zelenskiy.

Rutte said he and Zelenskiy discussed the possibility of accelerating the transfer of the F-16s.

"So we will ask our defense ministries to work on this together with our partners like Norway, Belgium, and other countries that are part of the F-16 coalition because Ukraine needs this advantage in the air as quickly as possible," he said.

The Danish Defense Ministry reported earlier that Denmark will transfer F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in the summer of 2024.

The ministry noted that it is difficult to establish a clear schedule for the transfer of the fighter jets because there are several conditions that must be met in order for Ukraine to be able to use them.

Denmark and the Netherlands became the first countries to promise to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but it will only happen after Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly them.

Rutte's trip included joining Zelenskiy in visiting wounded Ukrainian soldiers at a hospital in Kharkiv. The two leaders also visited an underground classroom where schoolchildren attend classes safe from missile strikes.

The visit to Kharkiv was a rare one by a senior Western politician as the city is regularly attacked by Russian air strikes and is much closer to the Russian border than Kyiv.

"The task facing Ukrainian allies is clear -- do whatever you can to provide what is needed, as long as it takes," Rutte said.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters
Updated

Hard-Liners Ahead In Tehran After Iranian Elections With Record Low Turnout Reported

A woman in Tehran casts her ballot on March 1.
A woman in Tehran casts her ballot on March 1.

Iranian state media says hard-liners are ahead in the capital, Tehran, as vote counting progresses in Iran's March 1 elections, which were marred by what appears to be a record-low turnout prompted by voter apathy and calls for a boycott by reformists.

The elections for a new parliament, or Majlis, and a new Assembly of Experts, which elects Iran's supreme leader, were the first since the deadly nationwide protests that erupted following the September 2022 death while in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for an alleged Islamic dress-code violation.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said 1,960 from 5,000 ballots in Tehran have been counted so far, with hard-liners ahead as expected.

An alliance led by hard-liner Hamid Rasaee won 17 out of 30 seats in Tehran, state radio reported, while the incumbent parliamentary speaker, conservative Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf also obtained a new seat.

The turnout appears to be at a record low, according to unofficial accounts, despite the officials' repeated appeals to Iranians to show up en masse at the polls as Iran's theocracy scrambles to restore its legitimacy in the wake of a wave of repression in 2022 and amid deteriorating economic conditions.

The Mehr news agency, citing unofficial results, reported that voter turnout in Tehran was only 24 percent.

Iran's rulers needed a high turnout to repair their legitimacy following the unrest, but many Iranians said they would not vote in “meaningless” elections in which more than 15,000 candidates were running for the 290-seat parliament.

State media reported that the turnout was "good." Official surveys before the election, however, suggested that only some 41 percent of eligible Iranians would come out to vote.

The Hamshahri newspaper said on March 2 that more than 25 million people, or 41 percent of eligible voters, had turned out, thus confirming the official survey.

If the figure is confirmed, it will be the lowest election turnout in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that brought the current theocracy to power, despite officials twice extending voting hours to allow late-comers to cast ballots.

The pro-reform newspaper Ham Mihan published an opinion piece titled The Silent Majority, reporting a turnout of some 40 percent.

Shortly afterwards, however, the title of the piece was changed to Roll Call without any explanation, which commenters on social media networks blamed on pressure exerted on the newspaper by authorities.

So far, the lowest turnout, 42.5 percent, was registered in the February 2020 parliamentary elections, while in 2016, the turnout was some 62 percent.

As the voting concluded, the United States made clear that the international community was aware that the results of the poll would not reflect the will of the Iranian people.

"As some Iranians vote today in their first parliamentary election since the regime's latest violent crackdown, the world knows the Iranian people do not have a true say at the ballot box," U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Iran Abram Paley wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Ahead of the vote, prominent figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, said they would boycott the elections, labeling them as superficial and predetermined.

Mohammad Khatami, Iran's first reformist president, was among the critics who did not vote on March 1.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, has also voiced his refusal to vote, criticizing the supreme leader's indifference to the country's crises.

Voter apathy, along with general dissatisfaction over living standards and a clampdown on basic human rights in Iran, has been growing for years.

Even before Amini's death, which sparked massive protests and the Women, Life, Freedom movement, unrest had rattled Iran for months in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of insurance support.

In a last-ditch effort to encourage a high turnout, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after casting his ballot in Tehran that voting would “make friends happy and ill-wishers unhappy.”

While domestically attention is mostly focused on the parliamentary elections, it is perhaps the Assembly of Experts polls that are more significant.

The 88-seat assembly, whose members are elected for eight-year terms, is tasked with appointing the next supreme leader. Given that Khamenei is 84, the next assembly may end up having to name his successor.

Analysts and activists said the elections were “engineered” because only candidates vetted and approved by the Guardian Council were allowed to run. The council is made up of six clerics and six jurists who are all appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei.

'Engineered Elections': Iran To Vote On Assembly That May Name Next Supreme Leader
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In dozens of audio and written messages sent to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda from inside Iran, many said they were opting against voting because the elections were “meaningless” and likely to consolidate the hard-liners’ grip on power.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

People Keep Paying Their Respects At Navalny's Grave Despite Police Presence And Arrests

Mourners react by the grave of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a Moscow cemetery on March 2.
Mourners react by the grave of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a Moscow cemetery on March 2.

People continued to come and pay their respects on March 2 at the grave of Aleksei Navalny, who was buried in Moscow on March 1 following his suspicious death in an Arctic prison last month, despite a high police presence at the cemetery and the arrest of more than 120 people across Russia for taking part in rallies to honor the memory of the late opposition politician.

Navalny was laid to rest in a cemetery near his childhood home in Moscow as tens of thousands of supporters defiantly risked reprisals from the authorities as police kept them from joining in the services.

Lithuania-based Russian journalist Aleksandr Plyushchev reposted on his Telegram channel a message from a a woman who visited the Borisovskye cemetery in the morning of March 2 and said security forces were still at the cemetery in high numbers while iron fences installed the previous day ahead of the funeral procession were still there.

The woman said “lots of flowers are still being brought, and people keep coming,” and posted several photos showing Navalny's grave covered by fresh flowers and wreaths. The woman mentioned that security forces did not rush people, allowing them to spend as much time as they wanted at the cemetery.

Alla Abrosimova, the mother of Navalny's wife, Yulia, visited her son-in-law's grave again on March 2, together with Navalny's mother. A photo of the two mothers was posted on Telegram.

Aleksei Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya (left), and his mother-in-law, Alla Abrosimova, visit the Russian opposition leader's grave at Borisovskoye Cemetery in Moscow on March 2.
Aleksei Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya (left), and his mother-in-law, Alla Abrosimova, visit the Russian opposition leader's grave at Borisovskoye Cemetery in Moscow on March 2.

Abrosimova on March 1 posted a video in which she delivered a speech at Navalny's grave.

“Yulia called me 10 times today. 'Tell him [Aleksei Navalny] directly that I love him immensely. Although you don’t have to talk, because he knows it very well.' And you know, somewhere he is happy, because not everyone gets to love and be loved like that,” Abrosimova said in the video.

Yulia Navalnaya, who lives outside Russia for security reasons, did not attend the service. But she posted an emotional letter and video on Instagram paying tribute to her husband, saying he made her laugh, even when he was imprisoned.

"I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try my best to make you up there happy for me and proud of me. I don't know if I'll manage it or not, but I will try," she said, alluding to her pledge to continue her husband's work to bring democracy and freedom to Russia.

Relatives and close associates were allowed to be present at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God for a brief funeral ceremony for President Vladimir Putin's most prominent foe before the burial in nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery.

Police forces were out in large numbers across Russia, and although no immediate incidents were reported during the funeral ceremony, more than 120 people were later detained in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, and other Russian cities for participating in rallies in Navalny's memory.

In Novosibirsk, police detained at least 18 people, according to Coalition Novosibirsk 2020 and Sibirmedia.

In Moscow, according to the Avtozak Telegram channel, at least 17 people were detained.

Among those detained in Moscow were Mikhail Shneider, former deputy head of the opposition People's Freedom party, or PARNAS, which was shut down by authorities in May, and Andrei Morev, the deputy head of the Moscow branch of the Yabloko party, and his colleague Alexander Efimov. Morev was later released without any official registration of his arrest.

Meanwhile, the First Department human rights project reported that courts in four Russian regions have declared Navalny's name an "extremist symbol."

First Department reported that the designation was used against three participants in rallies in Navalny’s memory in the Chelyabinsk, Krasnodar, and Murmansk regions. The designation was reportedly used in the Ulyanovsk region, too.

During the funeral procession on March 1, many people threw flowers at the hearse carrying the coffin to the cemetery as some mourners broke down metal fences to get closer to the vehicle. Chants like "Russia will be free," "No to war," and "Putin is a murderer," could be heard from the crowds.

Russians Overcome Fear At Emotional, Defiant Funeral For Navalny
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The U.S. ambassador to Moscow and several other Western diplomats attended the funeral.

"Aleksei Navalny's work was dedicated to sharing a vision of a better future for Russia and all Russians. And ultimately, he gave his life for his patriotic service. For many Russians, he remains a symbol of what Russia could and should be," the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a post on Telegram.

Serbs And Expat Russians Honor Navalny Outside Russian Embassy In Belgrade
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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed both Navalny's memory and the courage of those who attended his funeral in a message on X, formerly Twitter.

"It took a lot of courage to go pay tribute to Aleksei Navalny. Thousands of Russians found it within themselves. This is his legacy. Memory eternal," Macron wrote.

Scholz wrote that "Aleksei Navalny paid for his fight for democracy and freedom with his life."

"After his death, courageous Russians are carrying on his legacy: Many of them were at the funeral today and took a big risk -- for freedom," he added.

As Navalny Is Buried In Moscow, Supporters Abroad Pay Tribute
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Navalny's death was announced on February 16 at the Polar Wolf prison colony in the Russian Arctic, where he was serving a 19-year term on extremism and other charges that he and his supporters had rejected as politically motivated.

Authorities claimed his sudden death was prompted by "natural causes" and then refused to release his body to his family for about a week.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement or responsibility for Navalny's death.

With reporting by SOTA, Mediazona, Baza, and Mozhem Obyasnit

Russian 'Disinformation' Hyped Paris Bedbug Scare, French Deputy Minister Says

A biocide technician removes pillowcases to prevent the alleged spread of bedbugs in an apartment in L'Hay-les-Roses, near Paris, in September 2023.
A biocide technician removes pillowcases to prevent the alleged spread of bedbugs in an apartment in L'Hay-les-Roses, near Paris, in September 2023.

A bedbug scare in Paris last year that made headlines across the globe was artificially amplified by social media accounts linked to Russian "disinformation" activities, a French minister said on March 1. "The bedbug polemic was in a very large part amplified by accounts linked to the Kremlin," French European Affairs Minister Jean-Noel Barrot told TF1 television. After social media users published videos of the insects crawling around on public transportation, officials called on the government to help stamp out the bugs. A deep inspection was carried out, but authorities said there was no trace of any unusual outbreak.

Wanted Former Wirecard Executive Spied For Russia For Years, Investigative Journalists Say

Jan Marsalek (wiith and without beard) is wanted in Germany and Austria for fraud and embezzlement.
Jan Marsalek (wiith and without beard) is wanted in Germany and Austria for fraud and embezzlement.

The former chief operating officer of the defunct German fintech giant Wirecard, who fled to Russia in 2020 to evade possible prosecution on embezzlement and fraud charges, spied for Moscow for years, according to an investigation by German, Austrian, and Russian media outlets published on March 1.

Among the findings of the investigative article by journalists with ZDF, the German magazine Spiegel, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, and The Insider is that Jan Marsalek, the shady central figure in the implosion of the German digital-payment-services provider, changed his identity while in Russia.

The journalists obtained a copy of Marsalek's current Russian passport in which he is identified as Konstantin Bayazov. The reporters found out that a man with that name is an Orthodox priest residing in the Russian city of Lipetsk southeast of Moscow. The priest resembles Marsalek, and their birthdates are only one year apart.

Marsalek appears to have assumed Bayazov's identity to be able to travel, the investigative journalists reported. The priest said he had no comment on their findings.

"I have told you that you journalists must understand that we cannot speak with you," Bayazov told ZDF.

The investigation also uncovered details about Marsalek's Russian friend Natalia Zlobina, who in 2014 introduced him to Stanislav Petlinsky, who ultimately helped Marsalek establish contacts with representatives of Russia's military intelligence agency (GRU).

Zlobina, a former erotic model who is identified in the investigation as his lover, had been "attached" to Marsalek and assigned to recruit him to collaborate with Russian secret services.

Petlinsky, who calls himself "a security consultant," told the journalists while meeting with them in Dubai that he had introduced Marsalek to "some influential persons in Russia" up to the level of lawmakers, but not to secret service employees and he denied that Marsalek worked for the Russian secret services.

Petlinsky met with Marsalek in his office in Munich opposite the Russian consulate, where Marsalek regularly met with influential people active in politics, business, and national security officials, the investigation reports.

Meanwhile, some security officials in the West say they have information about Petlinsky's cooperation with Russian secret services.

Petlinsky confirmed to the investigative journalists that in 2017 he and Marsalek visited Wagner mercenary group troops in Syria and took part in recruiting Russian mercenaries for military operations in Libya.

The investigation said it was very likely that Marsalek, while representing Wirecard, used a network of firms to buy out assets of Russia's RSB Group, a provider of services to military mercenaries across the world.

Austrian investigators say Marsalek was part of a secret services' cell providing them business opportunities and authority.

"The intensive investigations...substantiate the suspicion and point to an intelligence network that is well established in Austria...around the Austrian citizen Jan Marsalek, who is still a fugitive," a report by the Austrian special investigator said.

In addition, British authorities say Marsalek led a Russian spy network in London that followed individuals the Kremlin did not like, including Christo Grozev of the Bellingcat investigative group, which investigated Marsalek's activities.

Marsalek's lawyer refused to comment on the situation to the investigative journalists.

Wirecard, a company that was once listed in Germany's DAX index of top-tier companies, plunged into crisis in 2020 when auditors pointed to a massive 1.9 billion-euro ($2.06 billion) hole in its accounts, sending the once high-flying company into insolvency.

Marsalek is wanted by German and Austrian authorities on suspicion of embezzlement and fraud.

Since the collapse of Wirecard, interest in Marsalek has expanded beyond his role in Wirecard to include his other business and political interests.

The Financial Times reported in July that Marsalek was a person of interest to at least three Western intelligence agencies over his association with individuals or networks linked to Russia’s GRU.

With reporting by ZDF, Der Spiegel, Standards, and The Insider

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