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Russia Denies WHO Claim Of Swine Flu Fatality

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported Russia's first known death from the H1N1 swine flu virus, but Russia has said the report was based on unofficial information.

Russian officials earlier this week rejected comments by the head of Moscow's Virology Institute, Dmitry Lvov, who said a Russian woman had died from H1N1 after returning from Bulgaria, in what would be the country's first known death from the virus.

The WHO yesterday listed Russia on its website as among 15 European countries that have registered deaths from the virus.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti today quoted a Health Ministry official as saying they were in contact with the WHO to "clarify the situation."

"In this case the WHO has drawn conclusions purely on the basis of information distributed in the public sphere," the unnamed official said.

Russian officials said the 46-year-old woman in question had tested positive for H1N1, but that she had been suffering from kidney disease and died from pneumonia.

Authorities say they have registered 381 cases of H1N1, but Lvov told Russian television the actual figure could be in the tens of thousands, raising concern over the government's readiness to address the pandemic.

The WHO office in Moscow said the official in charge of covering H1N1 was not available for comment. It was not immediately possible to confirm whether the WHO and the Russian authorities were referring to the same case.

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Explosions Heard In City Of Kerch In Occupied Crimea; Bridge Connecting Peninsula To Russia Closed, Says Report

The Kerch bridge connecting Ukraine's occupied Crimean peninsula with Russia was closed on March 5, according to RFE/RL. (file photo)
The Kerch bridge connecting Ukraine's occupied Crimean peninsula with Russia was closed on March 5, according to RFE/RL. (file photo)

Explosions were heard early on March 5 in the Crimean city of Kerch, and the bridge connecting the occupied peninsula with Russia was closed, according to RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities project. According to unconfirmed reports on social media, the Kerch region was being attacked by aerial and seaborne surface drones. Russian authorities have not commented on the situation. Attacks on the illegally annexed Ukrainian peninsula occur regularly, particularly near the bridge. Russian authorities typically blame the Ukrainian military for the explosions or say they were the result of military drills. Kyiv has confirmed its involvement in only some of the attacks. To read the original story on RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Magnitude 5.4 Earthquake Strikes Southwestern Iran, Says U.S. Geological Survey

An 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck Iran's southwestern Sistan-Baluchistan Province, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said early on March 5. The quake was at a depth of 35 kilometers, the USGS said, adding that the epicenter was some 66 kilometers northwest of the city of Fannuj. No injuries or damage were immediately reported.

Ukraine Downs 18 Russian Drones Over Odesa Region, Says Military

The attack mostly targeted residential and industrial areas of the Black Sea port of Odesa, the Ukrainian military said. (file photo)
The attack mostly targeted residential and industrial areas of the Black Sea port of Odesa, the Ukrainian military said. (file photo)

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 18 out of 22 drones launched by Russia at the southern region of Odesa early on March 5, the military said.

The attack mostly targeted residential and industrial areas of the Black Sea port of Odesa, the military said.

Russia's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said that its air defense forces destroyed three Ukrainian drones over the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.

Kyiv has not commented on the Russian claim.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian sea drones struck the Russian patrol vessel Sergei Kotov in occupied Crimea, causing it substantial damage, a source from the Main Directorate of Ukraine's Military Intelligence (HUR) told RFE/RL on March 5.

Social media posts earlier reported that the attack on the vessel occurred in the port of Feodosia overnight.

A video posted on X, formerly Twitter, purportedly shows the moment of the impact and a large explosion.

Russia has not commented on the Ukrainian claim.

To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here and here.

Russian Forces Battle To Advance Beyond Eastern City Captured Last Month, Ukrainian Military Says

A Ukrainian soldier fires a cannon toward Russian positions at the front line in eastern Ukraine on March 2.
A Ukrainian soldier fires a cannon toward Russian positions at the front line in eastern Ukraine on March 2.

The Ukrainian military says its forces have contained an advance by Moscow's forces outside the eastern city of Avdiyivka as Russian drones carried out another attack on Odesa, the Air Force 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.

Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy said on March 4 that the fighting is especially heavy on the eastern outskirts of the village of Novomikhaylovka near Maryinka.

"At the same time, we are saying that in this hottest sector of the direct Russian assault, we are managing to stabilize the situation and the enemy's advance has been halted," Lykhoviy said.

Russian units in this area are attacking even more fiercely using small assault groups and first-person view (FPV) drones, as well as carrying out massive artillery and air strikes, Lykhoviy said.

Russian forces are focusing on an area around the village of Novomikhaylovka, where they were "transferring reinforcements from the depths of Russia," he added in comments to LIGA.net.

In Odesa, an air alert was sounded early on March 5, and air defense forces were operating in the Odesa region, the Ukrainian Air Force said.

The southern Ukrainian port city is still reeling from a Russian drone attack on March 2 that killed 12 people, including five children aged 4 months to 10 years.

Russian forces captured Avdiyivka last month in the biggest victory for Moscow in months, and Russia's Defense Ministry last week said its forces had captured new villages outside the city, but that claim could not be confirmed.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Moscow's forces had "as a result of coordinated action continued to occupy more advantageous positions" near Avdiyivka. It made no mention of the area near Novomikhaylovka.

Elsewhere in the country, Russian artillery shelling during the day on March 4 damaged a school, a kindergarten, and more than 20 apartments in the city of Seredyna-Buda in the northeastern Sumy region, the regional prosecutor-general's office said on Facebook.

The border village was hit in November by strikes that killed three people.

Meanwhile, the head of the press service of the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian military, Ilya Yevlash, said that the military is preparing to defend the village of Chasiv Yar.

Ukrainian forces are currently trying to hold territory that lies between Chasiv Yar and Bakhmut in heavy fighting, Yevlash said. But the Russian army is constantly transferring significant reserves, and its troops are advancing from different flanks, attacking Ukrainian positions head-on, he added.

Chasiv Yar itself is also under constant attack, according to Yevlash. The Russian Army is firing mortars, automatic mounted grenade launchers, and using drones and aircraft.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said on March 4 that he and the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces discussed with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin the front-line situation and the supply of weapons.

"We are working together on providing for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces and increasing the army's capabilities," Umerov said, adding that Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy had also taken part in the call.

Syrskiy said on Telegram that he and Umerov also spoke with British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps and the chief of Britain's Defense Staff, Sir Tony Radakin.

Syrskiy said the discussions focused on the needs of the Ukrainian military and the development of Ukraine's naval capabilities with help from Kyiv's allies.

With reporting by Reuters

Iranian Judiciary Says 'Mossad Agent' Executed In Connection With Attack In Isfahan

The attack on the Iranian Defense Ministry workshop in Isfahan occurred in January last year. (file photo)
The attack on the Iranian Defense Ministry workshop in Isfahan occurred in January last year. (file photo)

Iran's judiciary has announced the execution of a person it claims was a Mossad agent involved in an explosion at a Defense Ministry workshop complex in the city of Isfahan last year.

According to the Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, the execution took place on March 3. Four Kurds also accused of having a connection with the attack were executed in January. The Hengaw human rights group says none of the five was given a fair trial and their confessions were obtained through torture.

The person executed on March 3 was accused of being in contact with agents of Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, since February 2019. It was alleged that, in 2022, the individual helped facilitate the smuggling of several drones into Iran by arranging the rental of a warehouse to store the aircraft and the purchase of vehicles to move them and people around. The attack occurred in January 2023.

The identity of the executed person has not been disclosed. However, Mizan, quoting the chief of the Isfahan judiciary, revealed that the individual fled the country under a false identity 13 days after the Isfahan attack. They were later apprehended by security forces in a “neighboring country,” although details of the arrest and the specific country where it occurred were not provided.

The Iranian Defense Ministry described the attack as unsuccessful, reporting no casualties and only minor damage to the facility's roof.

Though no one took responsibility for the attack, The Wall Street Journal quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying Israel had carried out the strike.

In an article published by the newspaper in December, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hinted at Israel's involvement in several operations inside Iran in 2022, including attacks on drone bases. Bennett cited the destruction of an Iranian drone base as a retaliatory measure for Iran's alleged attempts to launch drone attacks against Israel.

There has been a series of incidents inside Iran over the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as scientists and engineers.

Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

Israel says its standard policy is to not comment officially on such incidents.

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

U.S. Condemns Sentencing Of Iranian Singer Who Won Grammy

Shervin Hajipour, who wrote and performed the song Baraye in 2022, was sentenced last week to nearly four years in prison.
Shervin Hajipour, who wrote and performed the song Baraye in 2022, was sentenced last week to nearly four years in prison.

The United States on March 4 condemned the sentencing of an Iranian singer who won a Grammy award in 2023 for a song that became an anthem for mass Iranian protests after the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Shervin Hajipour, who wrote and performed the song Baraye in 2022, was sentenced last week to nearly four years in prison. He was also forced to write music critical of the United States. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the sentence was another sign of the government's "intent to crack down on freedom of expression and repress voices" inside Iran.

U.S. Says Low Turnout In Iranian Elections Another Sign Of 'Discontent'

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, casts his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, casts his ballots during the parliamentary and key clerical body elections at a polling station in Tehran on March 1.

The United States said on March 4 that low turnout in Iran's election was a new sign of discontent in the country. "I don't think there's any doubt that there's discontent about the regime's rule," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters. Miller said many Iranians likely assessed that the elections would not be free and fair and chose not to participate. Election authorities said earlier that conservatives and ultraconservatives secured a large majority in the parliamentary elections held on March 1 in which turnout was 41 percent. Many candidates, including moderates and reformists, had been disqualified from running.

Top Iranian Sunni Cleric Barred From Touring Flood Sites In Baluchistan

Iran's state news agency has described the flooding in Sistan-Baluchistan Province as severe.
Iran's state news agency has described the flooding in Sistan-Baluchistan Province as severe.

Iranian security forces have barred Molavi Abdolhamid, Iran's top Sunni cleric, from visiting areas affected by recent floods in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, while also detaining two of his children, according to local media reports.

Haalvsh, a group that monitors rights violations in the impoverished province, reported that the incident occurred on March 4 as Abdolhamid, accompanied by his family and associates, attempted to reach the flood-stricken region of Dashtyari.

However, their journey was abruptly halted by security personnel at a checkpoint on the Zahedan-Khash highway, where two of the cleric's teenage children were taken into custody.

Molavi Abdolhamid reportedly protested by refusing to leave the checkpoint.

The Baluch Activists Campaign also reported the vehicles of Abdolhamid and his companions being stopped and the "arrest" of two of his children, adding that residents of Zahedan were mobilizing toward the Zahedan-to-Khash road in response.

Abdolhamid has expressed criticism over the handling of flood disaster-relief efforts by officials and urged the public to provide aid to those affected in the province.

Molavi Abdolhamid (file photo)
Molavi Abdolhamid (file photo)

The heavy rainfall, which began last week, has inflicted significant damage across the southeastern province, leading to widespread flooding. Official reports indicate that at least 1,800 homes were damaged.

The floods, described as severe by the state news agency IRNA, have led to the overflow of four dams, affecting 1,947 villages across the region. The disaster has prompted concerns over the adequacy of emergency response and infrastructure resilience in Iran in the face of natural calamities.

Members of the Baluch minority, many of whom are Sunni Muslims in Shi'a-majority Iran, have long faced disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the authorities.

Abdolhamid, the outspoken leader of Friday Prayers in Zahedan, has publicly criticized the authorities for alleged human rights abuses and repression of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities.

Sources in Sistan-Baluchistan told Radio Farda that Abdolhamid, whose popularity has soared, has been the subject of "intimidation and threats" from the authorities.

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

43 Countries Demand International Probe Into Navalny's Death

Hundreds Visit Navalny's Grave Under Police Surveillance
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More than 40 countries have demanded an independent international investigation into the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and said President Vladimir Putin bore ultimate responsibility. European Union countries joined the United States, Britain, Ukraine, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Norway in voicing outrage on March 4 over Navalny's death. EU Ambassador Lotte Knudsen, speaking on behalf of 43 countries, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Russia "must allow an independent and transparent international investigation into circumstances of his sudden death," which is viewed as "yet another sign of the accelerating and systematic repression in Russia."

Report Documents 223 Incidents Of Damage To Ukrainian Power Grid

Investigators inspect a crater left by a Russian missile strike at an electrical transformer facility in Kharkiv in September 2022.
Investigators inspect a crater left by a Russian missile strike at an electrical transformer facility in Kharkiv in September 2022.

The Yale University Humanitarian Research Lab says it has documented 223 incidents of damage to Ukraine’s electric power infrastructure between October 2022 and April 2023. In most of these incidents, the damaged infrastructure was far from the front line, calling into question whether the strikes were directed at legitimate military objectives, the research lab said on March 4. The pattern of attacks "indicates widespread and targeted efforts to cripple vital power generation" during cold-weather months. The findings are consistent with those previously reported by the Conflict Observatory, a U.S. State Department-supported consortium that documents war crimes and atrocities.

German FM Pushes For EU Enlargement To Include Western Balkans

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks to journalists during a press conference in Podgorica on March 4.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks to journalists during a press conference in Podgorica on March 4.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wants to step up the pace of EU enlargement to include Western Balkan countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the face of Russian and Chinese attempts to exert influence in the region. "The faster we become stronger as a European Union in these geopolitical times, the better," Germany's top diplomat said on March 4 at a meeting with Montenegrin colleague Filip Ivanovic in the capital, Podgorica. At the same time, she emphasized, "Enlargement is not an end in itself but serves to strengthen our common Europe."

Russian Actor In Prison For Deadly Drunk Driving Accident May Get Early Release

Mikhail Yefremov is escorted after the verdict was announced in Moscow in September 2020.
Mikhail Yefremov is escorted after the verdict was announced in Moscow in September 2020.

Russian actor and Kremlin critic Mikhail Yefremov, who is serving a prison sentence for killing a man while driving under the influence, may be granted an early release.

The chairman of the Public Monitoring Commission, Georgy Volkov, said on March 4 that the administration of the prison where Yefremov is serving his 7 1/2-year prison term had approved Yefremov's request for an early release.

A court must now decide if the 60-year-old actor deserves it, but courts typically follow the recommendations and approvals of the administrations at penitentiaries when looking into early-release requests by inmates.

Performances by Yefremov satirizing President Vladimir Putin and his policies had been popular among Russians before he was sent to prison in late 2020.

Moscow's Presnensky district court initially sentenced Yefremov in September 2020 to eight years in prison on charge of "causing a deadly traffic accident while driving under the influence."

The Moscow City Court one month later cut Yefremov's prison term by six months.

Yefremov initially pleaded not guilty when the high-profile trial started in early August 2020, insisting that he couldn't remember anything that took place the night of the accident.

His defense team brought in three witnesses who testified that Yefremov was not alone in his car when it hit the other vehicle. They said that Yefremov was not driving and had exited the car from the passenger side after the deadly collision.

However, Yefremov changed his plea to guilty and asked for forgiveness from the victim's relatives.

Investigators said Yefremov was inebriated when he drove his car at high speed into an oncoming lane in central Moscow on the evening of June 8, 2020, hitting a car.

Yefremov was not injured in the accident, but the 57-year-old driver of the other car, Sergei Zakharov, was rushed to hospital with multiple injuries and died hours later.

After Zakharov was pronounced dead, Yefremov was charged and placed under house arrest.

Authorities later said that medical tests confirmed that Yefremov was under the influence of alcohol and had traces of drugs, including cocaine, in his blood at the time of the accident.

With reporting by TASS

Relatives Of Imprisoned Former Russian Lawmaker Handed Lengthy Prison Terms

Raul Arashukov (front) and his son Rauf attend a court hearing in Moscow in July 2020.
Raul Arashukov (front) and his son Rauf attend a court hearing in Moscow in July 2020.

A court in Moscow has handed lengthy prison terms to two relatives of a former member of the Russian parliament's upper chamber who along with his father is serving a life sentence for masterminding the murder of two officials in the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia.

The Preobrazhensky district court on March 4 sentenced former Federation Council member Rauf Arashukov's cousin Ruslan Arashukov to 16 1/2 years in prison on charges of embezzlement and participation in a criminal group.

The court also sentenced Beslan Arashukov, Arashukov's second cousin, to 16 years in prison on the same charges.

Nine other defendants were handed prison terms between five and 19 years. One defendant, a woman, received a suspended sentence and left the court a free person.

Rauf Arashukov and his father, Raul, were each sentenced to life in prison in December 2022 after a jury found Rauf Arashukov guilty of creating a criminal group and organizing the 2010 murders of Fral Shebzukhov, an adviser to the leader of the North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, and Aslan Zhukov, deputy chairman of a youth movement in the mostly Muslim region.

The court also convicted Raul Arashukov of fraud and ordering the two killings. At the time of his arrest, he was serving as a local lawmaker in Karachai-Cherkessia and as an adviser to the chief executive of a Gazprom subsidiary.

Rauf Arashukov, 37, was detained in late January 2019 at a dramatic session of the upper house after fellow lawmakers voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution.

He represented Karachai-Cherkessia in the Federation Council. His 64-year-old father was arrested at the same time, along with several other people, including their relatives.

Both Rauf and Raul Arashukov pleaded not guilty. The former lawmaker has insisted that the cases against him and his father are politically motivated.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

UN Rights Chief Slams Russia's 'Repression' Of Dissent Ahead Of Election

Cars drive past electronic screens on the facade of a building showing an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 29.
Cars drive past electronic screens on the facade of a building showing an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 29.

The head of human rights for the United Nations has chided Russia for its throttling of "dissenting voices" prior to this month's presidential election, adding that the death of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny added to concerns over the state of human rights in the country.

Speaking at a meeting of the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 4, Volker Turk pointed to the absence of opposition candidates over administrative technicalities in the March 15-17 election, which incumbent Vladimir Putin is expected to easily win, as fostering "serious concerns" about the election.

"The authorities have further intensified their repression of dissenting voices prior to this month's presidential election," he said.

"Several candidates have been prevented from running, due to alleged administrative irregularities. The death in prison of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny adds to my serious concerns about his persecution," he added.

Russian elections are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and are neither free nor fair but are viewed by the government as necessary to convey a sense of legitimacy. They are mangled by the exclusion of opposition candidates, voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, and other means of manipulation.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's tight grip on politics, media, law enforcement, and other levers means Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, is certain to win, barring a very big, unexpected development.

Earlier on March 4, the Supreme Court in Moscow rejected for the third time an appeal by Boris Nadezhdin, the one candidate seen as a legitimate opponent to Putin, over his exclusion from the election due to a technicality pertaining to the signatures submitted from supporters to back his candidacy.

Nadezhdin has said the invasion of Ukraine was a "fatal mistake" and accused Putin of dragging Russia into the past instead of building a sustainable future. His candidacy would have complicated the Kremlin's more aggressive ambition of boosting the perception of legitimacy for Putin.

Navalny was once a leading opposition voice who attempted to run against Putin in 2018, only to be barred by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) over a conviction in a fraud case in what is widely seen as a politically motivated conviction.

The 47-year-old lawyer, who was Putin's most vocal critic, died on February 16 in an Arctic prison. The circumstances of his death have not been clarified.

"I urge a swift and comprehensive review of all cases of deprivation of liberty that result from the exercise of fundamental freedoms; as well as an immediate end to the repression of independent voices and the legal professionals who represent them," Volker said in his speech.

"The future of the country depends on an open space," he added.

New NATO Base Opens In Albania At Former Soviet-Era 'Stalin City' Air Field

Military personnel watch as Eurofighter Typhoon jets fly over the newly rebuilt air base in Kucova, Albania, on March 4.
Military personnel watch as Eurofighter Typhoon jets fly over the newly rebuilt air base in Kucova, Albania, on March 4.

Two fighter jets that took off from NATO's Aviano Air Base in Italy landed in Albania on March 4 to mark the reopening of the Soviet-era Kucova Air Base. NATO has invested more than $50 million to refurbish the base -- once known as "Stalin City" -- in Albania, which joined the alliance in 2009 but does not have fighter jets of it own. "This is a base that will (add) another element of security for our Western Balkan region," Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said during the inauguration, noting the increased threat Europe faces from "the ambitions of Russia." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Russia Issues Warrant For Ukraine's Ex-Ambassador To Kazakhstan

Petro Vrublevskiy was replaced as ambassador in October 2022. (file photo)
Petro Vrublevskiy was replaced as ambassador in October 2022. (file photo)

A court in Moscow has issued an arrest warrant for Petro Vrublevskiy, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Kazakhstan, on a charge of inciting hatred.

The court also ruled on March 4 to add Vrublevskiy to Russia's wanted list. Earlier, Vrublevskiy was placed on Russia's registry of terrorists and extremists.

Vrublevskiy found himself at the center of a scandal in August 2022 -- about six months after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine -- after he said in an interview with noted Kazakh blogger Dias Kuzairov that "the more Russians we kill now, the fewer of them our children will have to kill in the future."

Moscow and Russian organizations in Kazakhstan then demanded Astana expel the diplomat for his controversial statement, but the Kazakh authorities refused, though they did ask Kyiv to replace him.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in early October 2022 that Moscow was "outraged" by the fact that Vrublevskiy remained in Kazakhstan, adding that the Kazakh ambassador to Russia had been summoned over the issue.

In response, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said that the tone of Moscow’s request to expel the Ukrainian ambassador was "dissonant to the character of the allied mutual ties between Kazakhstan and Russia as equal strategic partners."

The Kazakh side also said at the time that Astana and Kyiv had a "full understanding" of the situation and that a decision on the diplomat leaving Kazakhstan would be made solely by Kyiv.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry also said at the time it had summoned the Russian ambassador to Kazakhstan over the situation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy fired Vrublevskiy in mid-October 2022.

The Kazakh government under President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has been trying to maintain cooperation with Ukraine, its Western allies, and Russia since Moscow launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

While not openly condemning Russia's aggression against Ukraine, Toqaev has publicly stated that his country would not recognize Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Kazakh businesses last year set up so called "invincibility" yurts (traditional nomadic felt tents) in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and several other Ukrainian cities to provide local residents with food, tea, warmth, and the possibility to charge electronic devices.

Poland Urges EU Sanctions On Russian, Belarusian Farm Products

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk

Poland, seeking to meet the needs of protesting farmers, plans to ask the European Union to put sanctions on Russian and Belarusian agricultural products, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said during a visit to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Like much of Europe, Poland has been gripped by protests in recent weeks as farmers demonstrate against EU environmental regulations and what they say is unfair competition from Ukraine since the bloc waived duties on imports in 2022. Last week, Tusk said that market disruptions were also caused by agricultural products from Russia and Belarus and did not rule out introducing a ban.

Iran, Sudan Reject Report Claiming Tehran Seeks Red Sea Base

Two Iranian Navy warships are seen docked at Port Sudan in the Red Sea in 2012.
Two Iranian Navy warships are seen docked at Port Sudan in the Red Sea in 2012.

Tehran has rejected a media report claiming that Iran had unsuccessfully asked Sudan to allow it to set up a naval base on its Red Sea coast, a day after Khartoum also called it into question.

Citing an unnamed Sudanese intelligence official, The Wall Street Journal on March 3 reported that Iran had offered advanced weapons to Sudan in return for permission to build a naval base on its Red Sea shore.

The Wall Street Journal added that Sudan rejected Iran’s offer out of concern for alienating the United States and Israel. Iran has supplied the Sudanese military with drones used to fight rebels. The Iranian Navy has maintained a presence in the Red Sea for years but does not have a naval base in the strategic waters.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said on March 4 during a weekly press briefing that the report was “baseless and politically motivated.” A day earlier, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq denied the article, calling it “false and fabricated.”

Commercial shipping in the Red Sea has been crippled since November, when Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels started targeting ships with ties to Israel. Analysts say Tehran has used its so-called “spy ship” Behshad in the Gulf of Aden to provide intelligence to the Huthis.

The Huthis’ targeting of ships in the key global trade route has triggered retaliatory U.S. and U.K. air strikes, though questions remain about whether the attacks will deter the Yemeni rebels.

The Rubymar, a cargo vessel struck by the Huthis in late February, sunk in the Red Sea on March 3, becoming the first ship lost in the conflict.

The Huthis say they are striking Israeli-linked ships in support of Palestinians following the October outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Updated

Berlin, Moscow Dispute Whether Ambassador Summoned Over Leaked Military Talks

German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Lambsdorff (file photo)
German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Lambsdorff (file photo)

German Ambassador to Russia Alexander Lambsdorff spent about an hour at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow on March 4 amid a dispute between the two countries over the publication of a recording of a confidential discussion between German military officials about providing the long-range Taurus missile to 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.

Russan state media reported Lambsdorff had been summoned over leaked audio recordings of the German officers discussing the provision of advanced weapons to Ukraine. German Foreign Ministry said that it was "a long-planned meeting."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the same day that the leaked conversations "once again highlight the direct involvement of the collective West in the conflict in Ukraine" and that the recording shows Germany "is discussing substantively and specifically plans to strike Russian territory."

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement that it had demanded during the meeting with Lambsdorff that Germany "provide explanations concerning the German top brass's conversation" over the weapons, adding that Berlin's assistance to Kyiv "vividly points to the collective West’s involvement into the conflict around Ukraine."

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the leak of the recording was an attempt by Russia to split Western allies.

"This is a bald attempt and a transparent attempt by the Russians to try to sow discord and to try to show division, to try to make it look like the West isn't unified," Kirby said.

Kirby's comments echoed those of German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who said the timing of the release of the recording was aimed at undermining Western resolve.

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

The German Defense Ministry on March 3 confirmed that the leaked audio contained an intercepted conversation but could not tell whether it had been edited or doctored in any way.

The 38-minute recording was posted on Russian social media on March 1, initially by Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of state-controlled RT television, formerly known as Russia Today. She did not say how she obtained the recording.

In the recording, Air Force Commander General Ingo Gerhartz, Brigadier General Frank Graefe, and other officers discussed the possible use by Ukraine of German-made Taurus missiles, which can strike targets up to 500 kilometers away.

The recording included discussion of how Germany could provide the missiles if the government authorized the transfer and whether the Taurus would be capable of disabling the 18-kilometer Crimean Bridge, which links Russia with the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which Moscow occupied in 2014.

Kyiv has been seeking the weapon to boost its defenses against Russia’s invasion, which has now entered its third year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has refused to provide the missiles, fearing that doing so could lead to an escalation of the conflict.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev told a youth forum on March 4 that Moscow would respond to the recordings “with restraint” but would not forget about them.

With reporting by AFP

Russia Issues Warrant For Self-Exiled Former Putin Speechwriter

Abbas Gallyamov
Abbas Gallyamov

A Moscow court on March 4 issued an arrest warrant for Abbas Gallyamov, the self-exiled former speechwriter of Vladimir Putin, on a charge of distributing false information about Russia's military. The charge stems from Gallyamov's interview to a Ukrainian television channel in April 2022 about Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine that was launched in February 2022. Last year, Gallyamov was added to Russia’s wanted list and “foreign agents” registry over his criticism of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The 51-year-old Kremlin critic worked from 2008-10 as a speechwriter for Putin when he was prime minister, between stints as president. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities, click here.

Prosecutors Seek Harsher Sentence For Jailed Former Leader Of Navalny's Team

Lilia Chanysheva was handed the sentence in June 2023 after a court in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, found her guilty of creating an extremist community, inciting extremism, and establishing an organization that violates citizens' rights.
Lilia Chanysheva was handed the sentence in June 2023 after a court in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, found her guilty of creating an extremist community, inciting extremism, and establishing an organization that violates citizens' rights.

A court in Russia's Volga city of Samara ruled on March 4 to send the case of Lilia Chanysheva, the imprisoned former chief of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team in Ufa, to the Appeal Board of the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan after prosecutors said a 7 1/2 year prison sentence handed to the activist last year for extremism charges was too lenient.

Chanysheva and her co-defendant, Rustem Mulyukov, took part in the hearing via video link from prison while the courtroom was open to the public.

A prosecutor at the hearing claimed Chanysheva "deserves a 10-year prison term," while Chanysheva again rejected all the charges. Mulyukov also reiterated his not-guilty plea and stressed that he has a serious kidney disease.

Chanysheva was handed the sentence in June 2023 after a court in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, found her guilty of creating an extremist community, inciting extremism, and establishing an organization that violates citizens' rights.

Mulyukov was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of taking part in the activities of an extremist organization -- mainly organizing events, including educational seminars, investigative programs, rallies, and demonstrations in Ufa.

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

The request was accepted, effectively outlawing the group.

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

Navalny died on February 16 in an Arctic correctional colony while serving a 19-year prison term on extremism and other charges.

Several opposition leaders and associates of Navalny have been charged with establishing an extremist group. Many have fled the country amid pressure from the Russian authorities.

Imprisoned Russian Opposition Politician Ilya Yashin Labeled As 'Inclined To Spread Extremism'

 Ilya Yashin gestures from inside a defendant's cage in a Moscow courtroom in December 2022.
Ilya Yashin gestures from inside a defendant's cage in a Moscow courtroom in December 2022.

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has been labeled as "inclined to spread extremism" and faces tighter controls in prison, his Telegram channel said on March 4. The prison administration's decision comes days after Yashin called on the world's leaders to help release another incarcerated opposition politician, Vladimir Kara-Murza, saying he may be "killed" while in prison. The call came after Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny died in an Arctic prison on February 16. Yashin said that, like Navalny, Kara-Murza "created personal problems" for President Vladimir Putin's close associates. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

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.

Updated

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 rejected anti-war presidential hopeful Boris Nadezhdin’s latest appeal of a Central Election Commission (TsIK) decision to bar him from being registered to run in the March 15-17 presidential election.

The Uzbekistan-born 60-year-old academic and former lawmaker, the only potential candidate who has openly criticized Russia's war against Ukraine, said on Telegram he will appeal the latest court decision as well. Ruling out Nadezhdin leaves President Vladimir Putin without any significant challengers in the vote.

"I do not agree with the board's decision, and therefore, I will file a supervisory complaint with the Supreme Court's Presidium. I am not going to stop. I will fight to the end," Nadezhdin said in a statement on Telegram.

Last month, the Supreme Court rejected two other appeals Nadezhdin 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.

TsIK, which routinely refuses to register would-be opposition candidates on the pretext that they submitted an insufficient number of valid signatures, disqualified thousands of signatures that Nadezhdin's representatives had gathered across the country to reach the 100,000-signature threshold needed to be registered as a candidate.

Nadezhdin, who was proposed as a presidential candidate by the Civic Platform party, is the only politician with presidential ambitions who has publicly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and criticized Putin.

Russian elections are tightly controlled by the Kremlin and are neither free nor fair but are viewed by the government as necessary to convey a sense of legitimacy.

They are marred by the exclusion of opposition candidates, voter intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and other means of manipulation.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's tight grip on politics, media, law enforcement, and other levers means Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 1999, is certain to win.

But the surprising show of support for the little-known Nadezhdin, whose platform calls the invasion of Ukraine a "fatal mistake" and who accuses Putin of dragging Russia into the past instead of building a sustainable future, is complicating the Kremlin's more aggressive ambition of boosting the perception of Putin's legitimacy.

Those who were expected to be Putin's main challengers currently are either incarcerated or fled the country, fearing for their safety.

The late Aleksei Navalny was once a leading opposition voice who attempted to run against Putin in 2018, only to be barred by the TsIK over his conviction in a fraud case that was widely seen as politically motivated.

Navalny died in prison on February 16 after he reportedly collapsed while on a daily walk. No official cause of death has been given by the authorities.

Navalny was buried in Moscow on March 1 after authorities refused for almost two weeks to release his body to his family. The move heightened suspicions that the anti-corruption crusader was killed while in prison.

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.

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