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Reports: Iran Arrests Three Female Lawyers Tied To Opposition

Maryam Kianersi, one of the three detained
Maryam Kianersi, one of the three detained
Local Iranian media reports say the authorities have arrested three lawyers as they returned from trips abroad.

The three lawyers -- Maryam Kianersi, Maryam Karbasi, and Sara Sabaghian, all women -- were arrested on security charges upon arrival at the country's Imam Khomeini Airport.

The three had signed an open letter in September calling for the release of leading human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Sotoudeh represented many of the opposition activists and politicians arrested in the government crackdown on dissent following the country's disputed 2009 presidential election.

Kianersi, Karbasi, and Sabaghian also signed a petition in April that opposed a proposed law easing restrictions on polygamy.

compiled from agency reports

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Navalny's Widow Urges EU To Investigate Money Flows Tied To 'Bloody Mobster' Putin

Yulia Navalnaya addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on February 28.
Yulia Navalnaya addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on February 28.

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of the late Russian anti-corruption crusader and Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, has called on European lawmakers to investigate Russia's leadership, which she characterized as an "organized criminal gang" led by President Vladimir Putin and his allies.

Speaking to the European Parliament on February 28, almost two weeks after her husband was pronounced dead at an Arctic prison where he was serving time on what his supporters and the West call trumped-up charges, Navalnaya said an investigation of financial flows in the West would lead European lawmakers straight to Putin.

"You aren't dealing with a politician but with a bloody mobster. Putin is the leader of an organized criminal gang. This includes poisoners and assassins but they're just puppets. The most important thing is the people close to Putin -- his friends, associates, and keepers of mafia money," she said in a speech delivered in English.

"You, and all of us, must fight the criminal gang. And the political innovation here is to apply the methods of fighting organized crime, not political competition. Not statements of concern but the search for mafia associates in your countries, for discreet lawyers and financiers who are helping Putin and his friends to hide money," she added.

Navalny's death was reported on February 16, prompting an outpouring of grief and mounting outrage in Russia and around the world as the authorities refused to release his body to his mother amid suspicions about the cause of his death, which was officially attributed to "sudden death syndrome."

Navalnaya has accused Putin directly of having her husband, one of the president's most vocal critics, killed.

The Kremlin has rejected all accusations that it played a part in Navalny's death, while Navalnaya has pledged to carry on her late husband's work in exposing corruption in Russia and pushing for democratic freedoms and rights that Putin has rolled back during the more than two decades that he has ruled the country.

With Russians heading to the polls in a presidential election scripted to hand Putin another term, Navalnaya has called upon the West to refuse to recognize the March 17 balloting.

"Putin must answer for what he has done to my country. Putin must answer for what he has done to a neighboring, peaceful country. And Putin must answer for everything he has done to Aleksei," she said in her speech to lawmakers in Strasbourg.

In a brief interview with RFE/RL, Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, paid tribute to Navalny, whose death she said was "horrific."

"The reaction we have seen since his death, the outrage and the clampdown by Russian authorities on anyone expressing that outrage is a symbol to us of the situation that Russia is in at the moment, which is absolutely the case of how we would never recognize the results of the upcoming Russian elections," Metsola said.

European Parliament Chief: 'We Would Never Recognize The Results Of The Upcoming Russian Election'
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Putin -- who has an official annual salary of around $140,000 -- has been accused of amassing a fortune estimated by some at as much as $200 billion, while also doling out billions to his closest allies, through a tangled web of financial entities.

Navalny's team in 2022 published details it uncovered of a $700 million superyacht they said showed the vessel was Putin's.

In early 2021, Navalny's team issued an investigation shining a spotlight on a $1.35 billion estate on the Black Sea's exclusive Gelendzhik Bay that was allegedly built for Putin.

Putin has consistently denied any allegations that he has amassed a fortune. In his income and asset declaration from 2020, he listed a modest apartment, three Soviet-era cars, and a small camping trailer handed down by his late father.

"You cannot hurt Putin with another resolution or another set of sanctions that is no different from the previous ones. You can't defeat him by thinking he's a man of principle who has morals and rules," Navalnaya said, calling for more effective action against the money flows of the ruling elite.

"If you really want to defeat Putin, you have to become an innovator. And you have to stop being boring," she said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Zoriana Stepanenko in Strasbourg

Activists In Several Countries Demand Whereabouts Of Woman Forced Back To Chechnya

Demonstrators rally in support of Seda Suleimanova in Berlin on February 27.
Demonstrators rally in support of Seda Suleimanova in Berlin on February 27.

Activists in several countries around the world rallied on February 27 to demand Russian authorities find Seda Suleimanova, who has not been heard from for more than 150 days since she was detained in St. Petersburg and sent to her native Chechnya, which she had fled because of domestic violence.

The activists picketed Russian diplomatic missions in Buenos Aires, Berlin, Bonn, Warsaw, Mexico, and Tbilisi, holding posters saying "Show Us Seda," "No to Honor Killings," and "Where is Seda?"

Similar actions were held in five Italian cities -- Turin, Milan, Borgoricco, Rovato, and Savona.

In August 2023, police in St. Petersburg detained Suleimanova and her partner, Stanislav Kudryavtsev, at their apartment and took them to a police station, where Suleimanova was informed that she was suspected of stealing jewelry in Chechnya, a charge she rejected.

Seda Suleimanova
Seda Suleimanova

Suleimanova was then transferred back to Chechnya, and attempts by Kudryavtsev, who converted to Islam to be able to visit Chechnya and marry Suleimanova, to locate her failed.

Chechen authorities issued a video showing Suleimanova, who did not say a word, in Chechnya, after which no information about her whereabouts was made public.

Suleimanova had turned to the SK SOS group in October 2022 for help leaving Chechnya, saying that her relatives might kill her for being "insufficiently religious."

Human right defenders say families in the North Caucasus often file complaints accusing fugitive women of crimes, usually theft, to legalize their detention and return to their relatives. Once back, the women face violent abuse.

Domestic violence has been a problem in Russia's North Caucasus region for decades. Victims who manage to flee often say that they may face "punishment," including "honor killings," if they are forced to return.

Usually, local authorities take the side of the accused abusers.

With reporting by SOTA

Former Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov Dies At 94

Nikolai Ryzhkov pictured in 2019.
Nikolai Ryzhkov pictured in 2019.

Former Soviet premier Nikolai Ryzhkov has died at the age of 94. The news was announced on February 28 by the chairwoman of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council. No cause of death was given. Ryzhkov was a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He led the Soviet government from 1985 to 1991. In 1991, Ryzhkov ran for president, placing second behind Boris Yeltsin. After the Soviet Union's collapse, Ryzhkov served as a lawmaker. He was under Western sanctions for supporting Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Sixth Bulgarian Charged In Britain With Spying For Russia

Three members of the group -- Bizer Dzhambazov (left), Katrin Ivanova (center), and Orlin Rusev -- have also been accused of possessing false documents.
Three members of the group -- Bizer Dzhambazov (left), Katrin Ivanova (center), and Orlin Rusev -- have also been accused of possessing false documents.

A sixth Bulgarian citizen has been charged in Britain with allegedly being a member of a Russian spy network operating in the United Kingdom, British prosecutors said.

The man, identified in the statement as 38-year-old Tihomir Ivanov Ivanchev, was arrested on February 7 as part of an ongoing counterterrorism investigation, Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

Ivanchev, a resident of west London, will be charged with "conspiracy to obtain, collect, record, publish, or transmit documents or information" that could be useful for purposes detrimental to the security and interests of the British state.

Five other Bulgarians who lived in London and Norfolk -- Orlin Rusev, 46, Bizer Dzhambazov, 42, Katrin Ivanova and Ivan Stoyanov, both 32, and Vanya Gaberova, 29 -- were arrested in September last year on similar charges of “conspiring to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy,” namely Russia.

All six are accused of being part of an alleged Russian spy network that operated in Britain from August 2020 to February 2023 and are due in court in October. The trial is estimated to last four months.

British authorities said Ivanchev and the other five conspired with Austrian citizen Jan Marsalek and other unknown persons.

Marsalek is a fugitive businessman who was chief operating officer of German payment processing company Wirecard, which became insolvent and collapsed in 2020 in a fraud scandal.

Marsalek, who has not been charged in the case, has been on the run and is believed to be in Russia.

Three members of the group -- Rusev, Dzhambazov, and Ivanova -- have also been accused of possessing false documents which, according to the BBC, are passports and identity cards from Britain, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.

With reporting by AP
Updated

Navalny Funeral Service Set For March 1 In Moscow

People hold portraits of Aleksei Navalny as they gather to pay their tribute during a candle vigil in downtown Zagreb on February 23.
People hold portraits of Aleksei Navalny as they gather to pay their tribute during a candle vigil in downtown Zagreb on February 23.

A funeral service for the late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny will be held on March 1 at a church in the Maryino area of Moscow, where the Kremlin critic once lived, after several days of uncertainty marked by claims by his mother that she was being blackmailed by officials into holding a secret commemoration.

Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on February 28 that, after the service at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God, Navalny will be buried at the nearby Borisovskoye cemetery, a short walk from the banks of the Moskva River.

The distance between the church, which has a square out front, and the cemetery is about 2 kilometers. It was not clear whether there would be a procession from one venue to the other, or if supporters would gather at the church or the cemetery.

Navalny's widow, Yulia, said in a speech to the European Parliament on February 28 that she feared security forces will intervene during the event.

"I'm not sure yet whether it will be peaceful or whether the police will arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband," she said.

The announcement of the services comes a day after Navalny's associates said they were having trouble finding a location for the service, which will take place two weeks after the anti-corruption crusader was pronounced dead by officials at the Arctic prison where he was incarcerated.

Navalny's body was released to his mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, on February 24, more than a week after his suspicious death in prison. The official death certificate said the 47-year-old died of "natural causes." Officials have not commented further.

Before the body was released, Navalnaya said the authorities were setting conditions on where, when, and how her son should be buried.

"They want it to do it secretly without a mourning ceremony," she said, adding that investigators threatened to bury her son at the prison where he died unless she agreed to bury him without a farewell ceremony.

Russian media reports on February 27 said that police briefly detained on unspecified charges Navalny's former lawyer, Vasily Dubkov, who represented his family after his death and accompanied Lyudmila Navalnaya on her trip to the so-called "Polar Wolf" prison to get Navalny's body.

Hundreds of Russians have been arrested as people continued to honor Navalny’s memory at sites across the country.

Ivan Zhdanov, the former head of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, said February 29 was initially chosen as the day for the ceremonies, but that it "quickly became clear" that officials were forcing a different date, likely because President Vladimir Putin is to give a state of the union address that day.

He said Navalny's team was told that people were available to dig the grave on February 28 and March 1, but "not a single person was available" on the day in between.

"The real reason is clear: The Kremlin understands that nobody will listen to Putin and his message on the day of the farewell to Aleksei. We don't care about the message. Aleksei needs to be buried," Zhdanov said.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a self-exiled leading Russian opposition figure said in an interview with RFE/RL last week that a public funeral could trigger “large-scale confrontations” between Navalny supporters and law enforcement.

Navalny died while serving a 19-year prison term on charges including extremism that he, his supporters, Western officials, and rights watchdogs called politically motivated.

Navalny's relatives, associates, and Western officials have blamed President Vladimir Putin for Navalny's death. Russian officials have said no foul play was involved and called the international outrage over Navalny's death while in prison "hysterical."

Investigative journalist Christo Grozev told RFE/RL on February 27 that there was a plan in the works that included talks among three countries -- the United States, Germany, and Russia -- to exchange Navalny, along with the Americans currently held in Russia, for the convicted murderer and former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Vadim Krasikov.

Grozev, who said he also took part in the negotiations, said Russia had given its consent, however, he did not know whether Putin personally approved the exchange.

"But that was the last ingredient everybody was waiting for," he told RFE/RL.

"By the time Navalny died -- or as I believe he was killed -- it seemed like a very optimistic scenario that could work in the coming months," Grozev said.

According to Grozev, the fact that Germany agreed to exchange Krasikov was a signal to the Kremlin that it would swap for not-so-high-ranking prisoners being held in Russia, which is why the Russians withdrew.

The calculation on Moscow's part was that it might be possible to get Krasikov released without having to free the Americans -- who were never named but are presumed to be Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan -- along with Navalny.

Maria Pevchikh, the chairwoman of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, has said she received confirmation that negotiations were in the final stage on the evening of February 15. The next day, Navalny was pronounced dead.

Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has vowed to continue her late husband's fight for a "free Russia."

Moldovan Separatists To Hold Rare Gathering Amid Fears They Could Ask To Join Russia

Transdniester leader Vadim Krasnoselsky (file photo)
Transdniester leader Vadim Krasnoselsky (file photo)

The leadership of Transdniester is holding a congress on February 28 amid speculation that the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Moldova could officially ask to join Russia. The so-called Congress of All-Level Local Deputies was called by Transdniester leader Vadim Krasnoselsky to discuss alleged "pressures" exercised on the separatist region by Moldova's pro-Western government. No official agenda has been published, but local opposition politician Ghenadi Ciorba said on social media it was "most likely" the gathering will ask to join Russia and President Vladimir Putin would approve the request on February 29 during his annual address to Russian lawmakers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, click here.

U.S. Says Iranian Operatives In Yemen Aiding Huthi Attacks

Huthi police ride on the back of a pick-up truck during the funeral of Huthi fighters killed in U.S.-led strikes in Sanaa on February 10.
Huthi police ride on the back of a pick-up truck during the funeral of Huthi fighters killed in U.S.-led strikes in Sanaa on February 10.

Operatives from Iran and its Lebanese ally Hizballah are working inside Yemen to support Huthi insurgents' attacks on international shipping, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen told a Senate subcommittee on February 27. Iran is "equipping and facilitating" the Huthi attacks, said Tim Lenderking. "Credible public reports suggest a significant number of Iranian and Lebanese Hizballah operatives are supporting Huthi attacks from inside Yemen," Lenderking said. "I can't imagine the Yemeni people want these Iranians in their country. This must stop," he added. The attacks on shipping have triggered retaliatory U.S. and British strikes on Yemen.

Updated

Zelenskiy Co-Hosts Western Balkans Summit In Support Of Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) shakes hands with Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski as Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama looks on in Tirana on February 28.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) shakes hands with Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski as Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama looks on in Tirana on February 28.

A Western Balkans summit in support of Ukraine co-hosted by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is under way in Albania's capital, Tirana, as the war-wracked country seeks more support to stave off Russia's two-year invasion.

Ahead of the summit, Zelenskiy and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, whose country has been a staunch backer of Ukraine, signed a bilateral friendship and cooperation agreement, the Ukrainian presidency said on its website.

The Ukraine-Southeast Europe Summit is being attended by leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu is also participating in the gathering.

Zelenskiy, who arrived in Albania from Saudi Arabia, is also holding a series of bilateral meetings during the gathering aimed at stepping up further support for Kyiv by Southeast European countries.

Albania Set To Host Zelenskiy At Balkan Summit For Ukraine
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Albanian Foreign Minister Igli Hasani, who welcomed Zelenskiy at the airport in Tirana, said the summit marked "a pivotal moment for fostering bilateral ties, and standing in solidarity with Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russia's aggression."

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.

Ukraine relies heavily on weapons and ammunition supplies from its Western allies, mainly from the United States, in order to resist the increasingly intense assaults by Russian forces, who have superiority in manpower and ammunition.

Outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian troops have been recently forced to withdraw from some of their defensive positions in the east as a critical U.S. military aid package worth $61 billion remains blocked in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

NATO members Albania, North Macedonia, and Montenegro have joined the sanctions regime against Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and supplied weapons and ammunition to Kyiv.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Albania's support for Ukraine during a visit to Tirana earlier this month.

"It was one of the first countries to send military aid to Ukraine in the wake of the Russian aggression -- guns, ammunition, mine resistant vehicles -- and it's currently one of the top 10 per capita in terms of its support for Ukraine and security assistance," Blinken said.

Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, has not joined the sanctions against Russia.

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with an ethnic Albanian majority that declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, has voiced support for Ukraine despite the fact that Kyiv has not recognized its independence.

In Ukraine, air defenses said they shot down all 10 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia at two southern regions early on February 28.

"Mobile groups of the defense forces and antiaircraft missile units of the air force destroyed 10 Shaheds in the Odesa and Mykolayiv regions," the Ukrainian military said in a statement on Facebook.

There was no immediate report of casualties or damage from drone debris on the ground.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

Ukrainian Forces Withdraw From Two More Villages In East

Ukrainian soldiers fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer toward Russian positions near the town of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer toward Russian positions near the town of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine's military said its forces have withdrawn from two more villages near the eastern city of Avdiyivka, which was captured earlier this month by Russian forces, marking further losses for Ukraine as its troops continue to struggle with shortages of equipment, especially ammunition.

Ukrainian troops withdrew from Stepove and Syeverne, which lie west of Avdiyivka, Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy said on February 27.

"Our forces withdrew from the small villages of Syeverne and Stepove.... Heavy battles for Syeverne went on yesterday in the evening and night," Lykhoviy said, adding that Russia had taken significant losses in the fight.

Ukrainian forces have consolidated new defensive positions west of Avdiyivka, he said.

Russia's Defense Ministry said it had captured Syeverne, and that its troops had "occupied more advantageous lines and positions" and struck Ukrainian troops and equipment near Syeverne and Stepove, and another settlement, Lastochkyne, which Kyiv announced on February 26 it had abandoned.


Oleksandr Tarnavskiy, the commander of Ukraine's southeastern sector, said on Telegram that in the Avdiyivka "sector," the line of defense has been "stabilized" in the areas of Tonenke, Orlivka, and Berdychi.

Russian forces had failed in their attempts to advance in two areas further south, including to the Ukrainian-held village of Robotyne, Tarnavskiy added.

It was not possible to verify the claims.

The U.S. State Department said on February 27 that the situation on the battlefield in Ukraine was "extremely serious" because the Ukrainian military does not have enough ammunition to repel Russian aggression.

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.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Ukrainian troops "continue to fight bravely" with the weapons and ammunition that they have, but "they have to [conserve] it because the U.S. Congress has failed to act."

Miller again called on Congress to pass a bill that would provide $61 billion in military aid to the Ukrainian Army.

"Fundamentally, we think that the path to victory for Ukraine right now is in the United States House of Representatives," Miller said.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (Republican-Louisiana), an ally of former President Donald Trump and head of a razor-thin Republican majority in the House, has refused to allow a vote on the bill.

U.S. President Joe Biden and top Democrats met with Johnson and other senior Republican members of Congress on February 27 at the White House to press again for its passage.

A White House statement issued after a meeting said Biden "discussed how Ukraine has lost ground on the battlefield in recent weeks and is being forced to ration ammunition and supplies due to congressional inaction."

Biden again warned of the terrible cost of delaying the aid, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate nearly two weeks ago. Johnson said after the meeting the Senate's package "does nothing" to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, which is what Republicans have demanded in return for passing aid to Ukraine.

"The first priority of the country is our border, and making it secure," Johnson said.

The House has adjourned until February 28 and will work on reaching an agreement on government funding as agreements to continue spending at previous levels begin to expire.

The House is not expected to return to the national security package until after the first week of March.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Investigative Journalist Says Deal On Swap Involving Navalny Was Close Just Before Kremlin Critic's Death

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on February 23.
Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on February 23.

Investigative journalist Christo Grozev told RFE/RL that there was a plan in the works to exchange Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny for convicted murderer and former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Vadim Krasikov.

At least three countries participated in the discussions -- the United States, Germany, and Russia -- Grozev said in an interview on February 27 with RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service.

Grozev’s statements could not be independently verified, but they aligned with the comments of Maria Pevchikh, chairwoman of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, who on February 26 said Navalny's associates had worked for two years to convince Western officials to negotiate a deal that would include the Kremlin critic and two U.S. citizens held in Russian prisons for Krasikov.

Pevchikh said Putin in early February was offered Krasikov in a swap for two American citizens and Navalny under a plan that Grozev said he and Pevchikh had developed.

“I received confirmation that negotiations were at the final stage in the evening of February 15. On February 16, Aleksei was killed," Pevchikh said in her video.

Investigative Journalist Says He Helped Plan Potential Navalny Prisoner Swap
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Both Pevchikh and Grozev said Russian billionaire Roman Abramavich was the link with Russia. Grozev, who said he also took part in the negotiations, said Russia had given its consent; however, he did not know whether Putin personally approved the exchange.

"But that was the last ingredient everybody was waiting for," he told RFE/RL.

"By the time Navalny died -- or as I believe he was killed -- it seemed like a very optimistic scenario that could work in the coming months," Grozev said.

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, attended the Munich Security Conference to secure the final steps needed to swap Navalny, he said. Instead of news about a swap, the news came that he had died suspiciously after taking a walk at the prison colony in the Arctic where he had been held since December.

According to Grozev, the fact that Germany agreed to exchange Krasikov was a signal to the Kremlin that it would swap for not-so-high-ranking prisoners being held in Russia, which is why the Russians withdrew. The calculation on Moscow’s part was that it might be possible to get Krasikov released without having to free the Americans and Navalny.

This same thesis had been put forth by Pevchikh, however, she said Putin had been "clearly told" that the only way to get Krasikov back was to exchange him for Navalny.

In her video, Pevchikh alleged Putin “wouldn't tolerate” Navalny being set free and instead of swapping him, the Russian leader decided to “get rid of the bargaining chip.” She provided no evidence to back up her claim.

Krasikov is serving life in prison for the assassination in 2019 of a Georgian national and former Chechen rebel commander in a Berlin park. German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann on February 26 acknowledged that Germany had been asked about the prisoner swap involving Krasikov and Navalny but said she couldn’t comment.

Neither Pevchikh nor Grozev named the two U.S. citizens to be included in the exchange for Krasikov. Several Americans are currently being held in Russian prisons, including former Marine Paul Whelan, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on February 26 reiterated that the United States in December had proposed a swap to free Whelan and Gershkovich. Miller said the United States would not say more about the negotiations.

The Bulgarian-born Grozev, who lives in the United States, is the executive director and lead Russia investigator for Bellingcat, an investigative journalism group. He also is known for having close ties with Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Grozev’s investigations into the identity of the suspects involved in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Britain earned him and his team the European Press Prize for Investigative Journalism.

Bellingcat's investigations also implicated the FSB in the near-fatal poisoning of Navalny in 2020.

A court in Moscow in April 2023 issued an arrest warrant for him on a charge of allegedly crossing Russia's border illegally In December. Russia's Interior Ministry also added him to its wanted list on unspecified accusations.

Human rights monitor OVD-Info said the ministry in November 2022 opened a criminal case against him, accusing him of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian military.

Protesters Boo 'Putin Envoy' Dodik As Montenegro Pro-Russian Party Welcomes Him

Milorad Dodik, who is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and for violating the legitimacy of Bosnia, on February 21 held his fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Milorad Dodik, who is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and for violating the legitimacy of Bosnia, on February 21 held his fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russia president of the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, on February 27 visited Montenegro, where he was greeted by hundreds of protesters who booed him as he entered the parliament building.

Dodik, who last week traveled to the Russian republic of Tatarstan for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrived in Podgorica for a meeting with Parliament Speaker Andrija Mandic.

The cabinet of Montenegro's president, Jakov Milatovic, and the government of Milojko Spajic told RFE/RL they had no official information about Dodik's visit or announcements of meetings with officials.

The protesters who gathered at the parliament building criticized Mandic's meeting with Dodik, holding signs reading, "We must say no to Mandic and Dodik!" and waving a banner that included the words, "Putin's envoys are not welcome."

Entering the parliament building, Dodik greeted the crowd with a three-finger salute used by pro-democracy movements and as a symbol of dissent and opposition to authoritarianism. The protesters responded by booing and shouting "fascist."

Dodik, who is under sanctions imposed by the United States and Britain for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and for violating the legitimacy of Bosnia, on February 21 held his fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Dodik told Putin that Republika Srpska refuses to join sanctions against Russia despite pressure from Western governments and said he does not want to see Bosnia join NATO.

Two days before his meeting with Putin, Dodik met with Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has been sanctioned by the European Union for electoral irregularities.

Mandic, as one of the leaders of the pro-Russian Democratic Front coalition with two other parties, said it was a great honor to host Dodik, saying his New Serbian Democracy and Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats are sister parties.

“These are primarily Serb parties -- the Serb people of [Republika Srpska] support them, and the Montenegrin people support us," Mandic said.

Mandic said he would discuss a proposed cooperation agreement in the areas of business, sports, education, and culture in accordance with the Dayton agreement with Dodik. Mandic told a news conference the former government had rejected the agreement.

Opposition parties reacted strongly to Dodik's visit.

The pro-European Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said he came with "the task of conveying Putin's messages to his allies in Montenegro."

Abaz Dizdarevic, a DPS member of parliament, said Dodik's visit to Montenegro after his trips to Russia, Belarus, and Serbia confirm that Montenegro's officials are deceiving international partners with their European agenda.

Montenegro’s parliament in October appointed the new government led by Milatovic and Spajic and composed of pro-Europe and pro-Serbia/Russia-friendly parties that is expected to lead the country in its bid to join the European Union.

The Social Democrats said Dodik's visit was a clear indicator to the domestic and the international public what the EU agenda looks like in practice and not "in the artificial and now very distasteful EU narrative" of numerous officials in Montenegro.

The Bosniak Party said Dodik's visit was a clear sign that Montenegro "is becoming a haven for politicians and policies who are proxies of Russian politics in the Balkans and who have undisguised aspirations to dismantle a unified [Bosnia]."

Polish Prime Minister Considers Wider Ban On Ukrainian Food Imports As Farmers Protest In Warsaw

Polish farmers block a motorway to protest against the import of agricultural produce and food products from Ukraine, close to the Polish-German border, near Swiecko, Poland, on February 25.
Polish farmers block a motorway to protest against the import of agricultural produce and food products from Ukraine, close to the Polish-German border, near Swiecko, Poland, on February 25.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on February 27 he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to include other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc's markets. Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw carrying the national flag and blowing horns, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules. Farmers across Europe have been protesting new regulations in the EU's “Green Deal” and unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine.

Navalny's Former Lawyer Detained In Moscow After Helping Mother Press For Release Of Son's Body

Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of the late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, and lawyer Vasily Dubkov arrive at the regional department of Russia's Investigative Committee in the town of Salekhard, Russia, on February 17.
Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of the late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, and lawyer Vasily Dubkov arrive at the regional department of Russia's Investigative Committee in the town of Salekhard, Russia, on February 17.

Russian media reports on February 27 said police detained late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's former lawyer, Vasily Dubkov, on unspecified charges. Dubkov accompanied Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, to the Arctic city of Salekhard last week while she was demanding to release her son's body. The body was released to Navalnaya on February 24. Navalny's three former lawyers -- Vadim Kobzev, Igor Sergunin, and Aleksei Lipster -- were arrested in November on extremism charges. In mid-November, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for another former lawyer for Navalny, Olga Mikhailova, on extremism charges. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Internet Outages In Russia Hit Some Social Media, But Instagram, Facebook Come Back

Russia's Digital Ministry said in a statement that work had begun to restore Telegram and a number of other services in Russia, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.
Russia's Digital Ministry said in a statement that work had begun to restore Telegram and a number of other services in Russia, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.

Telegram, the most popular messaging app used in Russia, suffered a temporary outage on February 27 for unexplained reasons while some previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia. The monitoring center for Russia's public communications network said its specialists had recorded a "massive failure" of Telegram, though it was not immediately clear why. Russia's Digital Ministry said in a statement that work had begun to restore Telegram and a number of other services in Russia, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.

Russia Adds Self-Exiled Former Lawmaker To Terrorists Registry

Self-exiled former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov (file photo)
Self-exiled former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov (file photo)

Russia's Federal Financial Monitoring Service on February 27 added self-exiled former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov to its list of terrorists and extremists on unspecified grounds. Earlier in the day, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Gudkov's son Dmitry Gudkov, who is also a self-exiled opposition politician, on a charge of distributing "false" information about Russian military involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Both Gudkovs have publicly condemned the invasion and have criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government for years. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Two Ethnic Serbs Sentenced For Attack That Injured NATO Peacekeepers In Kosovo

Soldiers of NATO-led peacekeeping forces scuffle with ethnic Serbs in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.
Soldiers of NATO-led peacekeeping forces scuffle with ethnic Serbs in Zvecan, Kosovo, on May 29, 2023.

A court in Kosovo reached an agreement with two ethnic Serbs on February 27 after they plead guilty to attacking NATO-led peacekeepers. Radosh Petrovic and Dusan Obrenovic admitted to being part of a crowd that attacked KFOR troops in Zvecan, in Kosovo’s north, which is dominated by ethnic Serbs. Petrovic was sentenced to six months in jail but with time served will not have to return to jail. Obrenovic will avoid jail time if he pays a 6,000 euro ($6,500) fine. In May 2023, ethnic Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led peacekeepers, over the validity of local elections. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

After 18 Months Of Detention, Jailed Iranian Rapper Asks To Be Executed

Jailed Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin has previously described a "mock execution" set up by prison officials that he endured before being moved to the prison in Karaj.
Jailed Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin has previously described a "mock execution" set up by prison officials that he endured before being moved to the prison in Karaj.

Jailed Iranian dissident rapper Saman Yasin, who was detained during the nationwide protests in 2022 and has since detailed harrowing accounts of physical and psychological torture he has endured, has made a plea from prison to Iran's judiciary to "issue my death sentence" rather than continue holding him indefinitely without a trial.

Yasin, who has been incarcerated for 18 months at Karaj's Ghezel Hesar prison amid allegations lacking clear evidence, posted a letter on his official Instagram account saying he does not "understand the reason for all this anger, harassment, and torment from the judicial authorities toward me."

"Please tell me what crime I have committed?" he wrote.

"I am asking you to execute me, I don't know how to endure prison and uncertainty for a crime that neither you nor I know. Please issue my death sentence, I have no objection and I consent in writing with my fingerprints and signature.... Take my life, get it over," he added.

Initial reports suggest Yasin was first taken to a local police station during nationwide protests in September 2022 before being transferred to Evin prison and subsequently to the Greater Tehran prison.

The judiciary's news agency has reported that Yasin was accused of "waging war against God," a charge that led to a death sentence from the Tehran Revolutionary Court. However, the Supreme Court accepted Yasin's appeal for a retrial and referred his case back to the Revolutionary Court. A retrial has yet to take place.

Yasin has previously described a "mock execution" set up by prison officials that he endured before being moved to the prison in Karaj.

Yasin has consistently maintained his innocence, releasing multiple audio files to publicize his claims. He has also reportedly launched at least one hunger strike in protest.

"My life fell apart, you took away my mental and physical health, you artificially executed me, you took me to a mental hospital, what is left to bring upon me that you have not brought? Take my life too! I've been living with your fake and false promises for 18 months, I'm tired, finish it!" he wrote in the February 26 social media post.

Since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in custody after she was detained for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, Iranians have flooded the streets across the country to protest a lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

The judiciary, at the urging of lawmakers, has instituted harsh penalties, including the death sentence, for offenders.

Meanwhile, judges have also begun sending offenders to psychiatric centers as part of their punishment, a move prominent psychiatry boards in Iran have said is an abuse of judicial authority.

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

Ukraine's Zelenskiy Discusses Peace Plan, Return Of Captives In Talks With Saudi Crown Prince

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is welcomed upon arriving at an airport in an unknown location in Saudi Arabia on February 27.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is welcomed upon arriving at an airport in an unknown location in Saudi Arabia on February 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy held talks in Saudi Arabia on February 27 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman devoted to the course of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Zelenskiy said on X, formerly Twitter, that the primary topics would be Kyiv's peace formula for ending the invasion, as well as the return of captives and deported people. The Saudi state news agency said during the talks that the crown prince "affirmed the Kingdom's keenness and support for all international endeavors and efforts aimed at resolving the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, reaching peace, and continuing efforts to contribute in alleviating the resulting humanitarian impacts.

Polish Farmers Rally In Warsaw Against EU Policies, Ukraine Imports

Polish farmers rally in Warsaw on February 27.
Polish farmers rally in Warsaw on February 27.

Thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw on February 27 carrying the national flag and blowing handheld horns, escalating a protest which started in early February against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules. Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks against constraints placed on them by the EU's 'Green Deal' regulations, which are meant to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine. The Polish farmers rallied in central Warsaw before marching toward parliament and then the prime minister's office.

Anti-War Teen Activist Sent To Pretrial Detention On Charge Of Discrediting Russian Military

The hearing on the case against Darya Kozyreva on February 27 was held behind closed doors as investigators said the case materials may contain classified information.
The hearing on the case against Darya Kozyreva on February 27 was held behind closed doors as investigators said the case materials may contain classified information.

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- A court in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has sent an 18-year-old activist to pretrial detention on a charge of repeatedly discrediting Russian armed forces involved in Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The hearing on the case against Darya Kozyreva on February 27 was held behind closed doors as investigators said the case materials may contain classified information.

Kozyreva was detained on February 24, on the day of the second anniversary of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, after she glued a poster on a monument of prominent Ukrainian writer, poet, and thinker Taras Shevchenko with an excerpt of his well-known poem My Testament.

"Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained."

The poster was so strongly glued that police as unable to remove it and had to cover it with a black plastic bag.

Kozyreva was initially charged with vandalism in January last year after she left a comment in December 2022 on an art installation symbolizing "friendship" between St. Petersburg and Ukraine's city of Mariupol, which was destroyed by Russian bombs during Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The investigation of that case is still under way.

On December 18, 2022, less than a week after the installation was unveiled in St. Petersburg's Palace Square, the words "Murderers, you bombed it to ruins yourselves!" appeared on the installation.

Kozyreva was expelled from St. Petersburg State University last month after she was found guilty of discrediting Russian armed forces and ordered to pay a 30,000 ruble ($320) fine in December.

That charge stemmed from Kozyreva's online posts in 2022 criticizing Russian laws on discrediting Russian armed forces that were introduced shortly after Russia launched its full-scale unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022.

Tajik Prosecutor Seeks 20 Years In Prison For Police Officer Charged With Kidnapping, Murder

Former Tajik police officer Akmal Yusufzoda (right) is accused of abducting Ismoiljon Rahmonov (left) and killing him. (composite file photo)
Former Tajik police officer Akmal Yusufzoda (right) is accused of abducting Ismoiljon Rahmonov (left) and killing him. (composite file photo)

A Tajik prosecutor asked the country's Supreme Court on February 26 to sentence former police Colonel Akmal Yusufzoda to 20 years in prison on a charge of kidnapping and murdering a university teacher. Ismoiljon Rahmonov died in June last year after unknown individuals kidnapped him and threw him with his hands bound into a river. Yusufzoda was arrested along with a relative, Ismoiljon Shukurov, for their alleged involvement in the crime. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Shukurov to 12 years on a charge of aiding in Rahmonov's abduction. Investigators say Yusufzoda's actions were motivated by jealousy as he suspected Rahmonov had an affair with his wife. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Tajik Service, click here.

Navalny Associates Face Problems Finding Location To Bid Farewell To Kremlin Critic

Late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny
Late Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny

Associates of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny say they can't find a location in the Russian capital that will allow them to organize a public farewell ceremony for the Kremlin critic after his mother said she was being blackmailed by officials to hold a secret commemoration.

"We have called the majority of private and state funeral agencies, commercial entities, and funeral halls. Some say the premises are booked, some refuse to talk after they hear Navalny's name," spokeswoman Kyra Yarmysh said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on February 27.

"At one place, they directly said to us that they had been ordered not to collaborate with us. No results a day after we started looking for a site for a farewell ceremony," Yarmysh added a day after publishing a post saying Navalny's team was looking for a location to hold a public farewell "at the end of this working week."

Navalny's relatives have yet to confirm any details of a farewell ceremony and funeral for the anti-corruption crusader.

On February 26, the Baza Telegram channel said, citing unnamed sources at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, that its employees had started preparations for Navalny's burial overnight, adding that the preliminary date for a ceremony was set for February 29.

Baza also published a video it received from a subscriber showing that a parking place at the Borisovskoye cemetery was thoroughly cleared of snow the previous night with a large number of police vehicles present. The video was not independently verified.

Several Telegram channels mentioned possible sites where Navalny may be buried, including the Borisovskoye, Khovanskoye, and Troyekurovskoye cemeteries. All are in Moscow.

Navalny's body was released to his mother Lyudmila Navalnaya on February 24, more than a week after his suspicious death in an Arctic penal colony. No cause has been made public for the demise of the 47-year-old.

Before the body was released, Navalnaya said authorities were setting conditions on where, when, and how her son should be buried.

“They want it to do it secretly without a mourning ceremony,” she said.

Hundreds of Russians have been arrested as people continued to honor Navalny’s memory at sites across the country.

Navalny's relatives, associates, and Western officials have blamed President Vladimir Putin for his death. Russian officials have said no foul play was involved and called the international outrage over Navalny's death while in prison "hysterical."

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a self-exiled leading Russian opposition figure said in an interview with RFE/RL earlier that a public funeral could trigger “large-scale confrontations” between Navalny supporters and law enforcement.

Navalny died while serving a 19-year prison term on charges including extremism that he, his supporters, Western officials, and rights watchdogs called politically motivated.

Moscow Court Freezes Bank Accounts Of Wife Of Self-Exiled Anti-War Writer Akunin

Russian writer Boris Akunin (file photo)
Russian writer Boris Akunin (file photo)

A Moscow court has frozen bank accounts with 6 million rubles ($64,400) belonging to Erika Chkhartishvili, the wife of prominent Russian writer Boris Akunin, which is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili.

The Basmanny district court ruled on February 27 that the cash in Erika Chkhartishvili's accounts "was jointly earned by the couple and used to commit crimes."

In early February, the same court issued an arrest warrant for Akunin on charges of calling for terrorism and disseminating "false information" about the Russian Army.

Last month, Russia's Interior Ministry put Akunin on an international wanted list for alleged criminal activity, although specific charges against him were not listed.

Akunin, 67, who currently lives in London after leaving Russia in 2014 following Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, has openly criticized Moscow's unprovoked invasion of its western neighbor.

Earlier this month, the Russian Justice Ministry declared Akunin a "foreign agent," along with several other additions to the punitive list broadly applied to target regime critics.

Last month, Russia's financial watchdog, Rosfinmonitoring, added Akunin to its list of terrorists and extremists without any explanation, but media reports said an investigation into charges of discrediting Russian armed forces had been launched against the writer.

That move came less than a week after one of Russia's largest book publishers and the country's biggest bookstore chain announced that they had dropped Akunin and another popular writer, Dmitry Bykov, over their pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian comments.

In October, all Russian theaters staging plays based on Akunin's works removed his name from posters.

Akunin was among dozens of Russian writers who openly condemned Moscow's aggression against Ukraine. On February 24, 2022, immediately after the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion, he wrote on Facebook that "a new horrible epoch had started" in Russia.

"Until the last moment I could not believe that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin would launch this absurd war and I was wrong. I have always believed that in the end, common sense will win, and I was wrong. Madness won," Akunin wrote.

Bosch, Sony Closing Their Last Specialized Stores In Russia, Says Report

Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western firms such as Sony, stopped supplying inventory to Russia. (file photo)
Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western firms such as Sony, stopped supplying inventory to Russia. (file photo)

Electronics giants Bosch and Sony are closing their last specialized stores in Russia, Kommersant reported on February 27. A Sony representative said the company was closing its stores due to supply shortages, but will keep three outlets open in Moscow until summer to sell off the remaining inventory. Bosch has closed all stores except one, where they also plan to sell off remaining stock. Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western firms including Bosch, Sony, and South Korean electronics giant LG stopped supplying inventory to Russia. LG has already announced that all its stores in Russia have closed. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Boxer Replaces Nazarbaev's Son-In-Law As President Of Kazakh Olympic Committee

Former world boxing champion Gennady Golovkin (file photo)
Former world boxing champion Gennady Golovkin (file photo)

The Kazakh National Olympic Committee said on February 26 that former world boxing champion Gennady Golovkin has replaced ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, as its president. Billionaire Kulibaev had led the committee since 2015. Nazarbaev, his relatives, and close associates have lost influence in the country following unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022 that turned deadly after security forces used firearms to disperse demonstrators. Golovkin, known as "Triple G," has held multiple middleweight world championships and is a two-time former unified champion. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

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