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Russian-U.S. Crew Blasts Off For International Space Station

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and U.S. astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson enter a training module before their flight to the Space Station.
Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and U.S. astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson enter a training module before their flight to the Space Station.
Two Russian cosmonauts and a female American astronaut have blasted off from Kazakhstan for a long-term mission on the International Space Station.

The Russian Soyuz craft lifted off on schedule from the Baikonur cosmodrome shortly after 0500 GMT today.

On board are astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonauts Aleksander Skvortsov and Mikhail Korniyenko.

The Soyuz is expected to dock at the space station on April 4, with the crew joining the Russian, American, and Japanese crew currently on board.

The new Russian-U.S. crew is expected to remain on the station until September -- shortly before the last scheduled flight of a U.S. space shuttle before the shuttle program is officially ended.

The space shuttle “Discovery" is scheduled to blast off for the space station next week on a mission to deliver tons of research equipment to the orbiting laboratory.

compiled from agency reports

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Berlin, Moscow Dispute Whether Ambassador Summoned Over Leaked Military Talks

Alexander Lambsdorff (file photo)
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 discussion on Ukraine by German military officials.

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 German military officers discussing the provision of advanced weapons to Ukraine. But a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry told the AFP news agency 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 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 weapons 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.

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

"It is about using this recording to destabilize and unsettle us," Pistorius said, speaking at a news briefing in Berlin on March 3. He added that it was “a hybrid attack” aimed at “undermining our resolve.”

Moscow Court Issues Arrest 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.

Updated

Explosion Closes Railway Bridge In Russia's Samara Region

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

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

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

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

OPEC+ Members Extend Oil Output Cuts Into Second Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AFP and AP

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

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

Berlin accused Russia on March 3 of trying to sow disunity following the leak of a confidential conference call between high-ranking German military staff discussing the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles by Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Bild am Sonntag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by dpa, Mediazona, and Astra

Russian Officials Say 6 Gunmen Killed In Ingushetia Shoot-Out

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

Moscow Blocks Site Of Project Opposing Putin Reelection

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

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

Updated

Sharif Sworn In As Pakistan's New Prime Minister, To Lead Coalition Government

Shehbaz Sharif addresses the parliament in Islamabad on March 3.
Shehbaz Sharif addresses the parliament in Islamabad on March 3.

Shehbaz Sharif took the oath of office on March 4 to become Pakistan's prime minister for a second time. The 72-year-old leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party will lead a coalition government after February 8 elections that were marred by widespread allegations of rigging. In the vote, candidates backed by jailed ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was barred from running, won the most seats but fell short of a simple majority needed to form a government. Khan’s political rivals made a power-sharing deal after the election, putting forward Sharif as prime minister. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Updated

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

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

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

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slovak Foreign Minister Meets With Russia's Lavrov In Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP

Berlin Investigates Russian Reports Of Recorded German Military Officials

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

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

Drone Blamed For Blast In St. Petersburg Apartment Building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by dpa and Reuters

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