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U.S. And Russia Agree On Syrian Chemical Weapons Plan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have worked out a deal on Syria's chemical weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have worked out a deal on Syria's chemical weapons.
The United States and Russia agreed on a plan which gives Syria until mid-2014 to destroy or remove its chemical weapons stockpiles.

Speaking after three days of talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on September 14 that under the agreement Damascus must provide details of all its chemical weapons stockpiles within a week.

"The United States and Russia are committed to the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in the soonest and safest manner," Kerry said. "We agreed that Syria must submit within a week -- not in 30 days but in one week -- a comprehensive listing and additional details will be addressed regarding that in the coming days."

Kerry said the two sides have agreed that if Damascus fails to comply, they will seek a UN Security Council resolution that could authorize military action. He said that the framework agreed on September 14 "can provide greater protection and security to the world."

Kerry added that Damascus must hand over all its chemical weapons.

"We have reached a shared assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons possessed by the Assad regime," Kerry said. And we are committed to the rapid assumption of control by the international community of those weapons."

The two top diplomats said elements of the deal include a timetable and procedures on how Syria must comply.

The agreement stipulates that the arms inspectors must be on the ground no later than November. Kerry said their goal is to complete the destruction or removal of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama has welcomed the deal, and urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to comply. Obama said in a statement that if diplomacy fails, "the United States remains prepared to act."

The Pentagon said separately in a statement that the U.S. forces were still positioned for possible strikes on Syria.

Britain, China, France, and Iran also welcomed the Russian-American agreement.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on September 15 at a meeting with his visiting French counterpart Laurent Fabius that the deal will “enable tensions in Syria to be eased."

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the United States and its allies no longer have a pretext to attack Syria.

In Syria, the state news agency SANA called the deal “a starting point,” but there was no immediate statement by the government about its willingness to implement the agreement.

However, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) on September 14 rejected the deal and vowed to continue fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Salim Idriss, the chief of the FSA command told a news conference in Istanbul that the Russian-American deal "only seeks to gain time," adding, "We completely ignore this initiative and will continue to fight to bring down the regime."

Not all U.S. politicians welcomed the Russian-American deal either, with two Republican senators describing it as “an act of provocative weakness on America's part.”

In their joint statement, Arizona's John McCain and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham added: "We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon."

Syria recently applied to join the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, and on September 14 the United Nations announced that the country would come under the treaty from October 14.

The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have been killed in the 30-month conflict, and 2 million refugees have now fled Syria.


Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa

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Newspaper Honoring Navalny Withdrawn From Moscow Newsstands As Authorities Withhold His Body

Police officers watch a woman laying flowers in tribute to Aleksei Navalny at a monument in St. Petersburg on February 18. Almost 200 people have been arrested in the city in the past week for attending memorials for the opposition activist, who died in prison on February 16.
Police officers watch a woman laying flowers in tribute to Aleksei Navalny at a monument in St. Petersburg on February 18. Almost 200 people have been arrested in the city in the past week for attending memorials for the opposition activist, who died in prison on February 16.

An issue of Russian weekly Sobesednik dedicated partially to the memory of Aleksei Navalny has been withdrawn from newsstands in Moscow, the newspaper's editorial board says, as authorities continue to clamp down on any public manifestation of respect for the late Kremlin opponent.

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

While most printed media in Russia ignored the death of the opposition politician and activist, Sobesednik's latest hard-copy issue, released on February 21, featured a photograph of a smiling Navalny on the front page accompanied by the caption “...but there is hope!”

It included reports of the spontaneous commemorations of Navalny's death in several Russian cities and commentaries by public figures, human rights activists, and journalists such as 2021 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Dmitry Muratov.

Sobesednik journalist Elena Milchanovskaya told the SotaVision Telegram channel that the editors were not informed why all copies of the magazine were seized by authorities in Moscow.

"All this is very serious and even a little scary for us,” Milchanovskaya said, adding that Russia's Roskomnadzor media watchdog also blocked online access to the section of the issue dedicated to Navalny.

Navalny's death after his being detained in extremely harsh conditions at the Polar Wolf Arctic prison camp in Russia's far north Yamalo-Nenets region prompted hundreds of Russians to stage spontaneous gatherings in his memory that were immediately repressed by authorities.

According to OVD-Info, between February 16–19 security forces detained 397 people in 39 cities at rallies in memory of Navalny.

Most of the arrests -- almost 200 -- took place in St. Petersburg, where six of those arrested were given summonses to the military registration and enlistment office as they were leaving the temporary detention center on February 21.

Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, filed a lawsuit in a Russian court on February 21 demanding the release of her son's body after her direct video appeal to President Vladimir Putin remained unanswered.

A court in Yamalo-Nenets said on February 21 that a hearing into Navalnaya's complaint will be held on March 4.

Individuals Who Honored Navalny's Memory In St. Petersburg Given Summonses To Enlistment Office

Police officers watch a woman laying flowers to pay tribute to Aleksei Navalny at a monument in St. Petersburg on February 18.
Police officers watch a woman laying flowers to pay tribute to Aleksei Navalny at a monument in St. Petersburg on February 18.

Police officers gave summonses to six men arrested for laying flowers in St. Petersburg in memory of Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny, who died last week at an Arctic prison camp, Rotunda website reports. Officers handed the summonses to the military registration and enlistment office as the six were leaving the temporary detention center. Summonses were also handed to four people who had come from outside St. Petersburg to honor Navalny's memory. Nearly 200 people were arrested in St. Petersburg for laying flowers at the Navalny memorial, the vast majority of them for periods of one to 14 days. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Biden Calls Putin A 'Crazy SOB' And Takes Aim At Trump During Fund-Raiser For 2024 Election

U.S. President Joe Biden was talking about climate change when he said, “We have a crazy SOB like Putin and others, and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate.”
U.S. President Joe Biden was talking about climate change when he said, “We have a crazy SOB like Putin and others, and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate.”

During a fund-raiser for his reelection campaign on February 21, President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB” and took aim at former President Donald Trump's comments comparing himself to Aleksei Navalny, the Kremlin opponent who died last week in an Arctic prison. Biden was talking about climate change when he said, “We have a crazy SOB like Putin and others, and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate.” Speaking to donors, Biden also said he was astounded by recent comments made by his likely Republican challenger.

Flowers, Candles Placed In Tribute To Navalny In Serbia's Largest Cities

Flowers and candles for Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny were placed on the evening of February 21 in front of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade.
Flowers and candles for Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny were placed on the evening of February 21 in front of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade.

Flowers and candles for Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny were placed on the evening of February 21 in front of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade and in the central square of Serbia's second-largest city, Novi Sad. Navalny's death at an Arctic prison camp was announced on February 16. Photos of the spontaneous memorial, along with pictures and messages about Navalny's death, were published by the Russian Democratic Society, a group of Russian expats who are critical of President Vladimir Putin and oppose his invasion of Ukraine. "Navalny was truly a national hero," the group's founder, Peter Nikitin, told RFE/RL. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.


New EU Ambassador To U.S. Says Unity, Strength Are Most Important To Stop Russia's Aggression

EU Ambassador to the United States Jovita Neliupsiene says she believes there is broad support for the aid bill in Congress but what is lacking is the will to pass it.
EU Ambassador to the United States Jovita Neliupsiene says she believes there is broad support for the aid bill in Congress but what is lacking is the will to pass it.

The new EU ambassador to the United States has arrived in Washington at a time when tough issues related to the war in Ukraine are at the top of the international agenda as the conflict grinds toward its two-year anniversary on February 24.

Chief among them for U.S. politicians is a crucial $61 billion military aid bill proposed by President Joe Biden that has stalled in Congress despite his pleadings with lawmakers to pass it, saying its failure would only play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands.

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.

Ambassador Jovita Neliupsiene, speaking in her first interview with a U.S.-based broadcaster since stepping into the role of EU ambassador to the U.S. on January 1, said her message to Congress is that the United States and the European Union must act together to help Ukraine stop Russia’s aggression.

“It's difficult to imagine that Ukraine can fight this war for their freedom, for their security, for their existence, actually, without support being provided by the EU and by the United States,” Neliupsiene told RFE/RL on January 21.

She believes there is broad support for the aid bill in Congress. What is lacking is the will to pass it.

“I’m sure that a majority of the Congress [supports] the package for Ukraine because we are speaking about a war on the European continent, a war that can [cross] borders if the aggressor, the dictator, is not stopped,” the ambassador said.

In speaking with members of Congress and diplomats in Washington, Neliupsiene said she can put her message concisely: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

She also stressed the need to take action is urgent because Putin’s regime will “push the red lines until they know that this is really a red line,” adding that if Russia pushes further in Ukraine, the EU will have to make more costly and painful decisions, “and there will be no escape.”

As Neliupsiene sets out in her new position, the Lithuanian whose past positions include vice minister of foreign affairs noted that the EU has stepped up in the absence of continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

EU leaders on February 1 reached a deal to provide 50 billion euros ($54 billion). This follow 94 billion euros last year, and while EU aid is mostly to ensure that Ukraine can sustain state operations, about 30 percent goes toward defense, she said.

The EU and United States also must work together on sanctions, the new EU ambassador said, noting a priority of the EU’s sanctions packages, including the 13th package set forth on February 21, has been to slow down Russia’s military industrial capacity and prevent Moscow from acquiring high-quality components.

The EU has imposed sanctions on 1,600 individuals and several hundred companies even before the new round of sanctions was announced, and the coalition of countries observing sanctions has grown to more than 50, she said.

Meanwhile, Russia has been joined in a “coalition of ill will” that includes Iran, Belarus, North Korea, and China that must be countered. The key to that is to show unity in the face of Russia’s war, and an important part of her message is that the European countries are united right now.

“We think and we believe that only a united front can actually make sure that Ukraine can prevail,” she said. “But victory has to stand on two legs on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Updated

Supreme Court Rejects Nadezhdin's Latest Appeal Over Decision To Bar Him From Russian Presidential Vote

The Uzbekistan-born 60-year-old academic and former lawmaker had appealed the final decision by the Central Election Commission to bar him from taking part in Russia's upcoming presidential election.
The Uzbekistan-born 60-year-old academic and former lawmaker had appealed the final decision by the Central Election Commission to bar him from taking part in Russia's upcoming presidential election.

Russia’s Supreme Court on February 21 threw out anti-war presidential candidate Boris Nadezhdin’s latest appeal of the Central Election Commission’s (TsIK) decision to bar him from next month’s presidential election.

The Uzbekistan-born 60-year-old academic and former lawmaker had appealed the Central Election Commission’s final decision to bar him from the election.

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 Nadezhdin's representatives gathered across the country to reach the 100,000-signature threshold needed to be registered as a candidate.

"The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation refused to satisfy my claim to challenge the refusal to register. I will appeal the decision within 5 days. On February 26, the Court will consider appeals on the first two claims," Nadezhdin said in a post on Telegram.

"I will not accept failure."

Last week the same court rejected two other appeals he filed over TsIK decisions related to the collection of signatures on petitions to register his candidacy. The decision on February 21 can be appealed to the Appeal Board of the Supreme Court.

The first appeal was related to the TsIK's explanation of its decision by the fact that many of Nadezhdin's representatives who collected the signatures had power of attorney papers certified by notary offices in regions other than the ones in which they were collecting signatures.

Nadezhdin insists that TsIK abused its powers because no Russian law says signature collectors' powers of attorney must be certified by notary offices in the same regions where the signatures are collected.

In his second appeal, Nadezhdin questioned the TsIK's documents on checking his supporters' signatures, saying the TsIK failed to add written conclusions of handwriting experts to its signatures’ inspection protocols.

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 incumbent Vladimir Putin. Russia's presidential election is scheduled to be held March 15-17.

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

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

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

But the surprising show of support for the little-known Nadezhdin, whose platform says the invasion of Ukraine was a "fatal mistake" and 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.

Aleksei Navalny, a leading opposition voice who attempted to run against Putin in 2018, was barred by the TsIK over a conviction in a fraud case in what is widely seen as a politically motivated conviction.

Navalny died in prison on February 16 after he reportedly collapsed while being on a daily walk out of his cell. No official cause of death has been given by authorities, who have refused to turn the body over to family saying they will need two weeks to investigate "chemical forensics."

Soviet-Era Ukrainian Dissident, Politician Stepan Khmara Dies At 86

Stepan Khmara in Kyiv in 2016
Stepan Khmara in Kyiv in 2016

One of the most prominent Soviet-era dissidents of Ukraine, Stepan Khmara has died at age 86, his wife said on February 21 without giving the cause of death. Khmara was involved in human rights activities as a university student. In 1980 he was sentenced to seven years in prison on a charge of anti-Soviet propaganda. After his release in 1987, he co-founded Ukraine's Helsinki Committee and openly supported the idea of Ukraine's independence. Khmara was a lawmaker after Ukraine gained independence in 1991. In 2006 he was awarded the title Hero of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Russian Court Allows Government To Take Over Assets Of Nation's Biggest Auto Dealer

A Rolf dealership in St. Petersburg (file photo)
A Rolf dealership in St. Petersburg (file photo)

A court in St. Petersburg has allowed the government to take over the assets of the country's largest auto dealership, Rolf, founded by businessman Sergei Petrov. The court ruled on February 21 that the company’s shares owned by Delance and Rolf Motors, as well as all existing shares of Rolf Motors, Rolf Estate St. Petersburg, and Rolf Tech must be transferred to Russian government control. President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on temporarily putting Rolf under state management in December. The self-exiled Petrov called Putin's decree a manifestation of "lawlessness" at the time. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Proposed Law In Kazakhstan Would Bar Former President's Relatives From Burial At Pantheon

The idea to construct the Pantheon -- a public building housing the graves of prominent Kazakhs and a cemetery sitting on some 9,000 hectares of land near Astana, the capital -- caused controversy in Kazakh society when it was initiated by Nazarbaev's government in 2016.
The idea to construct the Pantheon -- a public building housing the graves of prominent Kazakhs and a cemetery sitting on some 9,000 hectares of land near Astana, the capital -- caused controversy in Kazakh society when it was initiated by Nazarbaev's government in 2016.

Amid ongoing efforts to further weaken former President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his associates, the Kazakh government has initiated amendments to the law on the Pantheon -- a burial site for the Central Asian nation's prominent figures -- that would remove Nazarbaev's relatives from the list of individuals who deserve to be buried at the pricey public site.

Media reports in Kazakhstan said on February 21 that the bill had been worked out by the Culture and Information Ministry.

The bill says relatives of all presidents, except their spouses, and other top officials, as well as laureates of the state Order of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Elbasy (National Leader) Nursultan Nazarbaev cannot be buried in the Pantheon.

The bill would reverse current law saying relatives of the first president of Kazakhstan, those of his successors, as well as relatives of the Constitutional Court's chairs and those of state secretaries have a right to be buried at the site.

The idea to construct the Pantheon -- a public building housing the graves of prominent Kazakhs and a cemetery sitting on some 9,000 hectares of land near Astana, the capital -- caused controversy in Kazakh society when it was initiated by Nazarbaev's government in 2016.

Many accused the government of misusing hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds and taxpayers' money amid an economic downfall, while others accused Nazarbaev of attempting to preserve the then-cemented cult of his personality even after his death.

The head of the Astana City Directorate for Land Issues, Toleughazy Nurkenov, said at the time that the move was needed "to implement the orders of the state leader [President Nazarbaev] regarding the construction of the National Pantheon and the necessity to set up a new city cemetery."

Nazarbaev, 83, and his inner circle lost power and influence after unprecedented anti-government protests in January 2022 that turned deadly after police and security forces opened fire on protesters.

Nazarbaev resigned as president in 2019, picking longtime ally Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as his successor.

But he retained sweeping powers as head of the Security Council, enjoying the powers as "elbasy." Many of his relatives continued to hold important posts in the government, security agencies, and profitable energy groups.

The protests in January started over a fuel-price hike and spread across Kazakhstan amid widespread discontent over the cronyism that has long plagued the country. Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of the Security Council role, taking it over himself.

Just days after the protests, several of Nazarbaev's relatives and those close to the family were pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.

Last year, Kazakh authorities annulled the Law on the First President -- the Leader of the Nation (Elbasy), depriving Nazarbaev's immediate family members of legal immunity.

Also in January 2023, parliament canceled Nazarbaev’s status of lifetime honorable member of the parliament’s upper chamber, the Senate.

In the last several months, Nazarbaev’s monument was removed from a site in front of the National Defense Ministry in Astana, his large portrait was removed from the Almaty metro, and his another monument in the atrium of the National Museum was also dismantled.

With reporting by KazTAG and Tengrinews

Zelenskiy Calls On Polish, EU Leaders To Meet At Ukrainian-Polish Border Amid Tension

A banner on a tractor reads "Putin, sort out Ukraine, Brussels, and our government" as part of an ongoing protest by Polish farmers at the Ukraine border on February 20.
A banner on a tractor reads "Putin, sort out Ukraine, Brussels, and our government" as part of an ongoing protest by Polish farmers at the Ukraine border on February 20.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 21 called on Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, President Andrzej Duda, and members of the European Commission to meet with him and members of his government at the Ukrainian-Polish border by February 24 amid ongoing tension caused by Polish farmers' protests against Ukrainian food imports that they say are impacting the prices of their own output. Zelenskiy stressed that the issue must be addressed as soon as possible, saying it could affect national security.

Dodik Doubles Down On Refusal To Join Sanctions Against Moscow In Meeting With Putin

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazan, Russia, on February 21.
Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazan, Russia, on February 21.

Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russia president of the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 21 and reaffirmed the entity's refusal to join Western sanctions against Moscow over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, said he "confirmed the good relations" that Republika Srpska has "with the Russian state and with you" at the meeting in the Russian republic of Tatarstan.

"What we are doing in the current circumstances is that we reject any possibility of joining Western sanctions against Russia," Dodik added, according to Radio-Television of Republika Srpska (RTRS), the Bosnian entity's public broadcaster.

It was Dodik's fourth meeting with Putin since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Dodik is under U.S. and U.K. sanctions for his alleged obstruction of the Dayton agreement and violating the legitimacy of Bosnia. He has spent the past two years attempting to erode central Bosnian authority and establishing parallel institutions to further his longtime threats to divide the country for good, receiving harsh rebukes from Western officials.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia told RFE/RL that Bosnia "has undertaken to follow the security and foreign policy guidelines of the EU" as a candidate country for membership.

"This excludes cooperation with countries that are under sanctions, as well as personal meetings with the heads of those countries," the OHR said.

In addition to its EU candidate status, granted in December 2022, Bosnia as a nation has joined the EU sanctions against Moscow. However, the implementation has faced obstacles due to the obstruction by Republika Srpska officials led by Dodik.

Dodik is among the few Western Balkan officials to engage in talks with Russian and Belarusian counterparts despite Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Putin said Dodik's visit would be "useful" and expressed gratitude for regular contacts, Republika Srpska news agency SRNA reported.

"Representatives of the [Republika Srpska] leadership visit us regularly. We cooperate with you in various fields," Putin said, according to SRNA. "I am sure that this visit will also be useful, and that we will use the time to discuss bilateral relations in a whole range of areas."

He added that "Russia knows that the situation is not simple."

Dodik and Putin last met in Moscow in May 2023, when Dodik said Republika Srpska "remains pro-Russian, anti-Western, and anti-American."

European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi warned then that EU allies "don't go to Russia."

Dodik arrived in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, after a two-day visit to Belarus that included a meeting with Belarusian authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on February 19.

Lukashenka and his allies are isolated and under a series of Western sanctions over the brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed Lukashenka's disputed reelection in 2020 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

With reporting by Goran Katic

Navalny's Mother Files Lawsuit Over Demanding Release His Body, Court Sets March 4 Hearing Date

Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, delivers a video address to Russian President Vladimir Putin as she stands near the Arctic Polar Wolf prison on February 20.
Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, delivers a video address to Russian President Vladimir Putin as she stands near the Arctic Polar Wolf prison on February 20.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of late opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, has filed a lawsuit in a Russian court demanding the release of her son's body as outrage mounts over the authorities' handling of Navalny's death in an Arctic prison.

A court in the Arctic region of Yamalo-Nenets said on February 21 that a hearing into complaint will be held on March 4. Navalny died in prison on February 16 but officials have repeatedly refused to return the body to his family claiming that an "investigation" into the cause of death would take up to two weeks.

If the full two weeks are taken to examine Navalny's body, it wouldn't be released until March 4.

Navalnaya has been trying to get access to her son's body since his death in a prison of special regime, the harshest type of penitentiary in Russia, was announced. Prison officials said the 47-year-old died after he collapsed while being on a daily walk out of his cell.

The Salekhard City Court told TASS news agency that the March 4 hearing set for Navalnaya's lawsuit will be held behind closed doors. Navalny, 47, died in the town of Kharp near Salekhard.

On February 20, Navalnaya posted a video on social media taken from outside the so-called Polar Wolf prison's razor-wire topped fence pleading with President Vladimir Putin for his help.

"I'm reaching out to you, Vladimir Putin. The resolution of this matter depends solely on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Aleksei's body is released immediately, so that I can bury him like a human being," she said in the video.

A day before that, Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin of killing her husband and accused officials of "cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably.”

The Kremlin has rejected any accusations of a role or subsequent coverup in the death of Putin's most vocal critic.

Penitentiary officials told Navalnaya that her son's body was in a morgue in Salekhard, but the morgue turned out to be closed that evening, while its employees told Navalnaya that they do not have her son's body. A day later Navalnaya again came to the morgue, but was not allowed to enter it.

The Investigative Committee said the investigation of her son's death was extended as investigators were conducting "chemical forensics" on Navalny's body.

'Putin's Nemesis' Is Dead. Will Aleksei Navalny Still Figure In Russia's Future?
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Navalny's self-exiled associate Ivan Zhdanov said on February 19 that Navalny's body may be held by the authorities for a fortnight, adding that the goal of the investigation's extension was "to cover up the crime."

The OVD-Info human rights group, however, said Russian laws may allow the Investigative Committee to hold Navalny's body for up to 30 days.

Since the announcement of his death, Russian police have cordoned off memorial sites where people were laying flowers and candles to honor Navalny, and dispersed and arrested hundreds of suspected violators in dozens of cities.

Six residents of Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, who served several days in jail for laying flowers at a makeshift memorial honoring Navalny were handed written summons on February 21 saying they must report to a military recruitment center.

OVD-Info said that as of February 21, 397 people across 39 cities in Russia have been detained for commemorating Navalny since his death.

With reporting by TASS

Kazakh Lawmakers Approve In First Reading Bill On Life Imprisonment For Pedophiles, Child Murderers

The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, the Mazhilis (file photo)
The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, the Mazhilis (file photo)

Members of Kazakh parliament's lower chamber, Mazhilis, on February 21, approved the first reading of a bill that would allow life imprisonment for individuals convicted of pedophilia and/or the murder of children. The bill comes after President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev ordered in his address to the nation in September 2023 that such legislation was needed, the parliament's press service said. The bill also toughens the punishment for assaulting and beating children and "helpless" people. Toqaev initiated the bill amid an outcry by human rights groups about a rise in domestic violence in the Central Asian nation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Jailed Kyrgyz Rights Defender Anvar Sartaev Transferred To House Arrest

Bishkek City Court (file photo)
Bishkek City Court (file photo)

The Bishkek City Court ruled to transfer to house arrest rights defender Anvar Sartaev, who was detained earlier on charges of calling for mass unrest, violent acts against citizens, and disobedience to the orders of authorities. On February 1, a lower court sent Sartaev to a pretrial detention center until at least April 1. It remains unknown what the charges stem from. Sartaev is known for his activities monitoring the rights of current and former military personnel. He unsuccessfully tried to get elected to the post of the country's ombudsman in 2015 and took part in parliamentary elections in 2017. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Britain Slaps Sanctions On Chiefs Of Arctic Prison Where Navalny Died

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron

Britain on February 21 sanctioned six individuals running the Russian Arctic prison where the death of Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny was announced on February 16. Those sanctioned -- the camp's head, Colonel Vadim Kalinin, and his five deputies -- will be banned from Britain and have their assets frozen, the Foreign Office said. "Navalny suffered from being denied medical treatment, as well as having to walk in [minus] 32 [degree Celsius] weather while being held in the prison," the statement said. "Those responsible for Navalny’s brutal treatment should be under no illusion -- we will hold them accountable," Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

Iran Blames Israel For Explosions At Gas Pipelines That Disrupted Supplies

The explosion of a gas pipeline in Iran earlier this month.
The explosion of a gas pipeline in Iran earlier this month.

Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji has blamed Israel for a spate of recent explosions that disrupted gas transmission lines in two of Iran’s provinces, incidents that have heightened tensions further between the two rivals.

Speaking to reporters on February 21, Owji described the incidents as a deliberate act orchestrated by Israel, aimed at undermining Iran's domestic gas supply in major provinces. Owji provided no evidence to support his claims.

Israeli authorities have not made any public statements regarding the allegations.

The February 14 explosions targeted the country's national gas lines, leading to severe disruptions in the flow of gas to at least five Iranian provinces. The sound of the blasts was reported in Fars, Chaharmahal, and Bakhtiari provinces, with the national gas company characterizing the incidents as "sabotage and terrorist acts" targeting two main pipelines.

In a report on February 16, The New York Times cited two Western officials and a military expert linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as saying it was possible Israel was behind not only the pipeline explosions but also a separate incident at a chemical factory in west Tehran.

Israeli officials also have not commented on the factory incident.

Owji said the damaged gas lines have been repaired.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war. Tensions between Iran and Israel, its regional foe, have been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

The collapse of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers has also added to regional tensions as Tehran reduces its commitments and expands its nuclear activities.

Talks to revive the deal that curbs Iran's sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions have been deadlocked.

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

Czechs Extradite Suspect In Iran-Backed Murder Plot To United States

Polad Omarov
Polad Omarov

The Czech Republic on February 21 extradited to the United States a Georgian wanted in connection with a plot to assassinate a dissident Iranian journalist in New York. The U.S. Department of Justice says Polad Omarov helped to organise the attempted assassination of Masih Alinejad at her New York home in 2022. He and suspected gang leader Rafat Amirov are accused of hiring U.S. citizen Khalid Mehdiyev and sending him $30,000 for her murder.
Czech police detained Omarov in January 2023 under an international arrest warrant and the Constitutional Court later rejected his appeal against extradition to the United States.

Updated

Russian Authorities Release Azerbaijani Fitness Trainer Detained At Yerevan's Request

Azerbaijani fitness trainer Kamil Zeynalli
Azerbaijani fitness trainer Kamil Zeynalli

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said on February 21 that Russian authorities released Azerbaijani fitness trainer Kamil Zeynalli, who was detained hours earlier at a Moscow airport at Armenia's request. Armenian Interior Ministry spokesman Narek Sarkisian told RFE/RL earlier that Zeynalli is wanted in Armenia on murder charges. RFE/RL's Armenian Service cited sources as saying Zeynalli is suspected of killing two people in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 during the war over the then-breakaway region. Azerbaijan recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023, 30 years after the region was taken under ethnic-Armenian control. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, click here. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

EU Approves 'One Of Broadest' Sanctions Packages Against Russia So Far

The European Union has approved a new package of sanctions against Russia, its 13th since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, in what the bloc's rotating president Belgium said was "one of the broadest approved by the EU."

The new package, agreed on February 21, will add nearly 200 more entities and individuals to the list and will include restrictions aimed at blocking the purchase of "drone components that end up in the Russian military complex and then on the battlefield in Ukraine," EU diplomats were quoted as saying, adding that the list includes several Russian companies, as well as third countries.

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.


The Belgian presidency said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that the package will be formally approved for February 24, the second anniversary of the start of Russia's invasion.

RFE/RL journalists who saw the sanctions lists as it was being prepared for publication said sectoral sanctions apply to 27 companies, among them some from China, India, Turkey, Serbia, and Kazakhstan.

The EU ambassadors also reportedly rejected an attempt by Hungary to strike down the names of three Russian oligarchs -- Alisher Usmanov, Vyacheslav Kantor, and Dmitry Mazepin, Jr. -- from the lists.

The list includes the names of 48 heads of military companies as well as more than 50 companies that produce heavy and light weaponry and their components as well as IT and logistics firms that cooperate with the Russian Defense Ministry and the firms' chiefs.

It also includes 12 individuals who hold self-styled positions of judges and ministers in the Russian-imposed institutions in occupied territories in Ukraine.

Among them is Valentina Lavryk, the so-called minister of education, science, and youth in occupied Crimea, who "controls the implementation of the militarization of education for Ukrainian children in...Crimea, as well as the suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture for these children," according to the document that justifies the sanctions.

Lavryk, the document adds, was "responsible for the coordination and supervision of the transfer of children from the illegally occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya to camps located in Crimea," the document says.

The list also includes the so-called acting ministers of health, labor, education, youth policies, and industry of the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine's Kherson region.

With reporting by Reuters

Blogger Who Revealed Russian Military Losses In Avdiyivka Reportedly Commits Suicide

Friends of noted Russian blogger Aleksandr Morozov said on February 21 that he committed suicide after citing unnamed sources online saying that Russian troops might have lost up to 16,000 troops while fighting for the Ukrainian city of Avdiyivka. A day earlier, Morozov, who has been fighting along Russia-backed separatists and Russian troops in Ukraine's east since 2014, wrote on Telegram that his military commanders forced him to delete the post about Russian losses. On February 17, Ukrainian forces withdrew from Avdiyivka after four months of a brutal battle with Russian soldiers. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Russian Weekly Pays Tribute To Navalny, Prints His Image On Front Page

Aleksei Navalny
Aleksei Navalny

The Russian weekly Sobesednik has dedicated part of its latest issue, including the front page, to Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny, whose death in a remote Arctic prison camp was announced on February 16.

A photograph depicting a smiling Navalny has been printed on the front page accompanied by the caption, “...but there is hope!”

The articles include reports of the spontaneous commemorations of Navalny's death in several Russian cities and a commentary by 2021 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Dmitry Muratov.

Most printed media in Russia have ignored the news of the opposition leader's death.

More Than 45,000 Russian Soldiers Believed Killed Since Start Of Ukraine War

A dead Russian soldier at the front line in the Donetsk region on September 16
A dead Russian soldier at the front line in the Donetsk region on September 16

At least 45,123 Russian troops have been killed since the start of Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, according to research by journalists from Mediazona and the BBC's Russian Service who have established the deceased soldiers' identities.

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.

Two-thirds of all confirmed dead -- volunteers, conscripts, ex-inmates, and fighters from private military companies -- were not connected to the military before the start of the invasion, researchers found.

The number includes 5,406 mobilized soldiers, 80 percent of whom were killed in the second year of the war.

Krasnodar, Sverdlovsk, Bashkortostan, and Chelyabinsk are the regions with the highest number of dead.

Journalists have identified 27,906 Russian soldiers killed last year -- 57 percent more than the confirmed losses in the first year of the invasion.

From October last year until this month -- roughly the period during which Russian forces advanced on the industrial city of Avdiyivka and in neighboring areas in the Donetsk region -- researchers confirmed the deaths of 6,614 Russian soldiers. Avdiyivka fell to Moscow's forces last week.

The journalists based their research on data from open sources such as obituaries in the media, messages on social networks by relatives of the victims, reports from local administrations, as well as data from cemeteries. The researchers say that the actual figures could be at least twice as high.

The Russian Defense Ministry does not disclose data on personnel losses and does not comment on figures reported by journalists.

In January, CIA Director Willam Burns said in an article published by the magazine Foreign Affairs that at least 315,000 Russian soldiers had been wounded or killed during the war in Ukraine.

Lukashenka Wants Armed Police Patrols In Belarusian Cities, Vows Measures Against 'Extremism'

Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka at a meeting with the leadership of the state security agencies in Minsk on February 20.
Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka at a meeting with the leadership of the state security agencies in Minsk on February 20.

Strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka has urged police forces to send out patrols armed "at least with pistols" in Belarusian cities to better protect citizens against "crimes of an extremist nature." "Today, this is the most important aspect of maintaining law and order -- stopping the actions of scumbags and preventing the 'misguided,'" Lukashenka said at meeting with Belarusian security bodies on February 20. According to official figures, more than 1,300 "extremism" cases were tried by courts last year in Belarus, dubbed by Western diplomats as Europe's last dictatorship. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Updated

Some 60 Russian Troops Reportedly Killed By Strike While Waiting In Formation

Smoke rises from the site of a Russian missile strike that hit a water purifying station in Kramatorsk on February 20.
Smoke rises from the site of a Russian missile strike that hit a water purifying station in Kramatorsk on February 20.

A Ukrainian strike on a training ground in Moscow-occupied Donetsk has killed at least 60 Russian troops, the BBC's Russian Service quoted sources as saying.

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.

Russian soldiers from the 36th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade had been lined up and were waiting for the arrival of Major General Oleg Moiseyev, the commander of the 29th Russian Army, when the strike occurred on February 20, the report said.

Ukraine has not commented on the report.

Pro-Russian social media outlets posted videos and photos purportedly showing dozens of uniformed dead bodies, accusing Moiseyev of making soldiers stand in line waiting for his arrival when they were hit. sian and Ukrainian services)

Meanwhile, three civilians were killed and 13 others were wounded by Russian shelling of three eastern Ukrainian regions, local authorities reported on February 21.

One person was killed in Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region, while eight others were wounded, regional Governor Vadym Filashkin said.

In the Kharkiv region, two farmers were instantly killed when their car was struck in the village of Petropavlivka in the Kupyansk district, while one woman was wounded, regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said.

In the Kherson region, four people were wounded in Russian shelling, mortar, and drone strikes, local authorities reported.

Air-defense forces shot down 13 out of 19 drones launched by Russia at four Ukrainian regions early on February 21, Ukraine's Air Force reported, adding that one S-300 missile and four Kh-22 cruise missiles were also destroyed.

The drones were downed in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya and Donetsk regions, the air force said.

It said that some of the remaining six drones did not reach their targets.

The four Kh-22 cruise missiles were shot down in the central Poltava region.

Rivals Of Pakistan's Ex-PM Khan Reach Agreement To Form Government

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

The political rivals of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced details of a power-sharing agreement late on February 20, naming Shehbaz Sharif as their candidate for prime minister. The announcement followed days of talks among the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People’s Party, and other parties that did not gain enough seats in the February 8 vote to govern on their own. They said at a news conference that they had secured the required majority to form a coalition government.

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