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U.S. Envoy Sees Pakistanis Backing Fight Versus Taliban

Richard Holbrooke at a press conference in Islamabad on June 5
Richard Holbrooke at a press conference in Islamabad on June 5
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Pakistan's politicians and armed forces are showing more cohesiveness in the fight against Islamic extremists and public opinion is increasingly on the government's side, the U.S. envoy to the region has said.

"Public opinion is solidifying behind the government. People are really fed up with what the Taliban and the other extremists have done," Richard Holbrooke told Reuters shortly after arriving in the United States from Pakistan.

Pakistan's military has been fighting the Taliban in the Swat Valley, northwest of the capital, for more than a month after the militants took advantage of a peace pact to conquer new areas in the region.

It remains "critically important" that the campaign against the Taliban and other extremists should succeed and that an estimated 2.5 million refugees displaced by fighting should be able to return home securely, he said.

"So this is far from over," Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said after a speaking engagement in New York late on June 8. "But events in the last few weeks have been very positive from the government's point of view. I also found an increased sense of cohesiveness on this issue between the government, the opposition and the army."

'Big Step Forward'

Compared with the political crisis of three months ago, Pakistan now has opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in support of the government on the fight against the Taliban and the military is also behind the campaign.

"That's a big step forward," Holbrooke said.

Pakistan's offensive to expel Taliban militants from the Swat Valley has been welcomed by Western allies worried that the nuclear-armed country was sliding into chaos.

The military says more than 1,200 militants and 90 soldiers have been killed in the Swat offensive.

Pakistan's support is vital in a broader campaign to defeat Al-Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan.

In his speech on June 8 to the American Council on Germany, a trans-Atlantic business and policy forum, Holbrooke renewed his calls on other Western countries to provide more aid to help the refugees in Pakistan who fled the fighting.

"The international community has not responded adequately to their needs so far," he said.

The United States has pledged more than $300 million for the Pakistani refugee crisis, compared with less than $200 million from the rest of the world, Holbrooke said.

"We have called on other countries to join us in this effort. In the end we are going to need several billion dollars for this small part of Pakistan."

Conditions for the refugees are relatively good but they need to return home to avoid further problems, he said.

"Politically they must go back. If they do not, there will be a political explosion," Holbrooke said, praising efforts by Germany to help address the situation. "But we really hope there will be more support from other countries."

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Ukrainian Forces Withdraw From Two More Villages In East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was not possible to verify the claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition parties reacted strongly to Dodik's visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia Adds Self-Exiled Former Lawmaker To Terrorists Registry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polish Farmers Rally In Warsaw Against EU Policies, Ukraine Imports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Veteran Rights Defender Oleg Orlov Sentenced To 2 1/2 Years In Prison

Russian rights activist Oleg Orlov (file photo)
Russian rights activist Oleg Orlov (file photo)

The Golovinsky district court in Moscow sentenced Oleg Orlov, the co-chair of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Memorial human rights center, to 2 1/2 years in prison for "repeatedly discrediting" Russian armed forces involved in the Kremlin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov, 70, refused to take part in closing arguments on February 27 and asked his defense team not to invite their witnesses to the stand, saying that they may be labeled "foreign agents" if they testify. Orlov was labeled a "foreign agent" in early February.

In his final statement shortly before the verdict and sentence were pronounced, Orlov reiterated his innocence, stressing that Russian authorities have banned "any independent opinion."

"[Russian officials'] children or grandchildren will be ashamed to talk about where their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers served and what they did. And the same will happen to those who, by carrying out orders, are committing crimes in Ukraine. In my view, this is the worst punishment, and it is inevitable," Orlov said,

"The punishment for me is clearly inevitable as well, because in today’s circumstances, hoping for an acquittal on this charge would be the highest level of naivete. And now, very soon, we will see what the verdict is. But I have nothing to regret or repent."

In October last year, the court fined Orlov 150,000 rubles ($1,590) on a charge that stemmed from several single-person pickets he held condemning Russia's aggression against Ukraine, along with an article he wrote criticizing the Russian government for sending troops to Ukraine that was published in the French magazine Mediapart.

In mid-December, the Moscow City Court canceled that ruling and sent Orlov's case back to prosecutors, who had appealed, saying the sentence was too mild.

Earlier this month, investigators updated the charge against the rights defender, saying that his alleged misdeeds were motivated by "ideological enmity against traditional Russian spiritual, moral, and patriotic values."

Memorial has noted that the case was reinvestigated hastily, while Orlov said he thinks the investigators received an order to move quickly with the case to allow for the retrial.

Orlov gained prominence as one of Russia's leading human rights activists after he co-founded the Memorial human rights center following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2004-2006, Orlov was a member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights Institutions.

For his contribution to human rights in Russia, in 2009, Orlov was awarded the Sakharov Prize, an international honorary award for individuals or groups who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought.

Memorial was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 for its longtime "fight for human rights and democracy."

With reporting by Mediazona

Ukraine Shoots Down Russian Su-34 Fighter Jet, Says Air Force Commander

A file photo of a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber
A file photo of a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber

The Ukrainian military has shot down another Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber jet, the commander of Ukraine's air force said on Telegram on February 27. "Minus one Su-34 in the eastern direction," General Mykola Oleshchuk said, without giving details. Russia has not commented on Ukraine's claim, which could not be independently verified immediately. Oleshchuk previously reported the downing of a Su-34 fighter-bomber on February 21. That claim could also not be independently confirmed. To read the original story by RFE/ RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Moscow Court Issues Arrest Warrant For Self-Exiled Opposition Politician Dmitry Gudkov

Dmitry Gudkov (file photo)
Dmitry Gudkov (file photo)

A Moscow court on February 27 issued an arrest warrant for self-exiled opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov on a charge of distributing "false" information about Russian military forces involved in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The case against Gudkov was launched in October. The charge against the Kremlin critic stemmed from a video Gudkov placed on YouTube that was critical of the war in Ukraine. In December, the Interior Ministry added Gudkov to its wanted list. Last February, Gudkov was labeled "a foreign agent." If he returns to Russia and is convicted, Gudkov faces up to 15 years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Court In Chechnya Sentences Teenager To More Than 3 Years In Prison For Burning Koran

Nikita Zhuravel (file photo)
Nikita Zhuravel (file photo)

A court in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya sentenced a teenager on February 27 to 3 1/2 years in prison and 300 hours of community work for publicly burning a Koran. Nikita Zhuravel, 19, who set fire to a Koran in the Russian city of Volgograd, was found guilty of "insulting believers' feelings" and "religious hatred-based hooliganism." In August, video showing Adam Kadyrov, the 15-year-old son of Chechnya's authoritarian ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, beating Zhuravel while in custody caused public outrage. Rights defenders have questioned the legality of Zhuravel's trial being held in mostly Muslim-populated Chechnya instead of the Volgograd region, where the incident took place. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Caucasus.Realities, click here.

Independent Pakistani Journalist In Police Custody; Media Watchdog Calls For His Release

Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor (file photo)
Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor (file photo)

Popular independent Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor was arrested late on February 26 after he was ordered to appear for questioning in connection with an alleged “explicit and malicious” campaign against Supreme Court judges. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it spoke to Toor's lawyer, Imaan Mazari-Hazir, who confirmed the news. Toor was arrested in the capital, Islamabad, by the FIA’s cybercrime wing. The CPJ called on authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release" Toor, and "to cease harassing him for his journalistic work."

Azerbaijani Journalist Sentenced To 9 Years In Prison On Charges He Rejects

Azerbaijani journalist Avaz Zeynalli (file photo)
Azerbaijani journalist Avaz Zeynalli (file photo)

A court in Baku on February 27 sentenced independent Azerbaijani journalist Avaz Zeynalli to nine years in prison on corruption charges that he and his supporters have rejected as motivated by his journalistic work.

Zeynalli, the editor in chief of Khural (Parliament) TV, a leading independent Azerbaijani Internet TV station, has been in pretrial detention since September 2022, when he was arrested together with human rights lawyer Elchin Sadygov.

The two were arrested after a pro-government news organization claimed that they had extorted 20 thousand manats ($10,845) from the wife of imprisoned businessman Rasim Mamedov in exchange for favorable coverage of his case.

Mammadov is the former head of the steelmaking plant Baku Steel Company LLC. In February 2021 he was detained on charges that included the embezzlement of some 55 million manat (more than $32 million). He was defended by Sadygov.

Later in September 2022, the Baku Court of Appeal transferred Sadygov to house arrest, separating his case into a different proceeding.

Zeynalli has rejected the charges, saying that the state prosecution did not provide any reliable evidence confirming his guilt. In his final address to the court on February 26, he said that he was a prisoner of conscience, and the case against him was prompted by his journalistic work.

Zeynalli also told the court that he did not know 31 of the 38 witnesses produced by the prosecution in his case.

The court also ruled to confiscate 16,000 manat seized during the search of Zeynalli's house on the day of his detention in September 2022.

It was the second time that Zeynalli was sentenced on bribery-related charges.

In 2011, he was detained on allegations of extorting and accepting a bribe from former parliament deputy Gulyar Ahmadova.

Zeynalli pleaded not guilty at his subsequent trial in 2013, saying the case against him was connected with his work as a journalist.

He was sentenced to nine years in prison but was released a year later in 2014.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Azerbaijani authorities to release Zeynalli and Sadygov and drop all charges against them.

“Bribery charges against Avaz Zeynalli, a critical journalist whom authorities have previously jailed for his work, and Elchin Sadygov, a lawyer who regularly defends journalists against state repression, are concerning, especially as pro-government media made the accusations,” said CPJ's Gulnoza Said in September 2022.

“Azerbaijani authorities should free Zeynalli and Sadygov, drop the charges against them, and refrain from jailing members of the press and their advocates in retaliation for their work.”

Russian Metals Tycoon's Assets Nationalized Days After Putin Criticized Operations At Chelyabinsk Plant

Metals tycoon Yury Antipov (file photo)
Metals tycoon Yury Antipov (file photo)

A Russian metals tycoon's assets in a company that produces a key component in making steel have reportedly been nationalized days after President Vladimir Putin criticized his management of his company.

Yury Antipov, 69, the owner of Russia’s largest ferroalloy company, was also questioned by investigators in Chelyabinsk, the Urals industrial city where his company is based, and released on February 26, according to local media.

Earlier in the day, the government seized his shares in Kompaniya Etalon, a holding company for three metals plants that reportedly produce as much as 90 percent of Russia’s ferroalloy, a resource critical for steelmaking.

Russia’s Prosecutor-General Office filed a lawsuit on February 5 to seize Etalon, claiming the underlying Soviet-era metals assets were illegally privatized in the 1990s. It also said the strategic company was partially owned by entities in “unfriendly” countries.

While campaigning for a presidential vote next month, Putin criticized Antipov on February 16 without naming him during a visit to Chelyabinsk, whose working-class residents are typical of the president’s electoral base.

Putin told the regional governor that the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant, the largest of Etalon’s five metals factories, had failed to reduce dangerous emissions as agreed in 2019 and the asset would be taken over even though the court had yet to hear the case on privatization.

“I think that all the property should be transferred to state ownership and part of the plant -- [where there is ecologically] harmful production -- should be moved outside the city limits,” Putin told Governor Aleksei Teksler.

In a closed hearing, a Chelyabinsk court approved the transfer of Etalon’s assets to the state, a move potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Antipov ranked 170 on Forbes 2021 list of richest Russians with a net worth of $700 million.

The nationalization of a domestic company owned by a Russian citizen is the latest in a series of about two dozen by the state since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

Prosecutors have based their cases on illegal privatization, foreign ownership, criminal activity, or a combination of the three. A rare-metals producer whose owner had been critical of the war effort was among the other assets seized. l

The seizures contradict Putin’s repeated promises in the nearly quarter century he has been in power that he would not review the controversial 1990s privatizations. In return, businessmen were expected to be loyal to the Kremlin and stay out of politics, experts say.

That unofficial social contract had more or less functioned up until the war. Now businessmen are also expected to contribute to the war effort and support the national economy amid sweeping Western sanctions, experts say.

The current trend of state seizures has spooked Russian entrepreneurs and raised questions about whether that social contract is still valid.

U.S. Ties

Antipov began his business career in the 1990s selling nails, fertilizer, dried meats, and other goods. In 1996 he and his business partner plowed their profits into the purchase of the Chelyabinsk Electrometallurgical Plant and subsequently purchased four more metals plants in the ensuing years.

The plants sold some of their output in the United States, where the firm had a trading company.

Antipov received full control of the metals holding in 2020 when he split with his business partner. That year he put 25 percent of the company each in the names of his wife and two eldest sons, Sergei and Aleksei Antipov, according to Russian business registration records.

In 2022, the metal assets were transferred to the Etalon holding company, whose ownership was hidden. Ferroalloy prices surged in 2022 as the war triggered a spike in commodity prices.

A hit piece published by The Moscow Post in December -- six weeks before prosecutors launched the privatization case -- claimed Antipov paid himself a dividend of more than $300 million from 2021-2023 using a structure that avoids capital gains taxes. RFE/RL could not confirm that claim. The Moscow Post is a Russian-language online tabloid that regularly publishes compromising and scandalous stories.

According to public records, Antipov’s two sons own homes in the United States and may be U.S. citizens. Sergei Antipov founded the trading company around the year 2000 in the U.S. state of Indiana. If he and his brother together still own 50 percent of the company, prosecutors could potentially have grounds for seizure.

Russia has changed some laws regulating the purchase of large stakes in strategic assets since its invasion of Ukraine.

One is a 2008 law that requires foreign entities to receive state permission to buy large stakes in strategic assets. An exception had been made for foreign entities controlled by Russian citizens.

Under the change, a Russian citizen with dual citizenship or a residence permit in another country may be considered a “foreign” owner and must receive permission to own an asset.

Nationalization is among the punishments for failure to do so. Thus, if Antipov’s two sons are U.S. citizens or if they have U.S. residency permits, their combined 50 percent stake in the company could be seized.

This already happened to a Russian businessman from St. Petersburg. His business was determined to be strategic and seized after he received foreign residency.

Ukrainian Air Defenses Down 11 Russian Drones, Two Cruise Missiles

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 out of the 13 drones launched by Russia early on February 27, the country's air force said. (file photo)
Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 out of the 13 drones launched by Russia early on February 27, the country's air force said. (file photo)

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 of 13 drones launched by Russia at targets inside Ukraine early on February 27, the country's air force said. It added that two cruise missiles out of a total of six had also been destroyed. "Fighter aircraft, antiaircraft missile units, mobile groups, and electronic warfare equipment were involved in repelling the attack," the Ukrainian military said, adding that the drones and missiles were shot down over the Kharkiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Khmelnytskiy and Kirovohrad regions. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

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