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'I'm Not Buried Yet,' Says Ukraine's Afghan Envoy

Reports of Viktor Nikityuk's demise in Kabul were premature. (file photo)
Reports of Viktor Nikityuk's demise in Kabul were premature. (file photo)

Russia's state-run Rossia TV has erroneously reported that Ukraine's ambassador to Tajikistan and Afghanistan was among the dozens of people killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul last week.

The channel's Vesti program said on its website on January 24 that seven Ukrainian citizens, including Ambassador Viktor Nikityuk, had died in the Taliban assault.

However, Nikityuk told the Dushanbe-based Asia-Plus news agency later in the day that he was not in the Afghan capital when the attack took place.

"I have not read the report that already buried me," he also said, adding that he was doing well.

On January 20, Taliban gunmen dressed in army uniforms stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul, killing at least 30 people including 14 foreigners.

Ukrainian officials said seven of them were Ukrainians.

Based on reporting by Asia-Plus

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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

Zelenskiy Lands In Saudi Arabia To Push For Peace Plan, Prisoner Exchange With Russia

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 arrived in Saudi Arabia on February 27 and met the kingdom's crown prince to push for a peace plan and the return of prisoners of war from Russia. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to position himself as a potential mediator to end the war between Ukraine and Russia -- even as Riyadh remains closely aligned with Russia on energy policies through the OPEC+ group of countries. The day before, the prince hosted Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of Russia's Duma, the lower house of its parliament, and a host of other Russian officials.

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.


Russia Warns Of Direct Conflict With NATO If Troops From Alliance Members Fight In Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron

The Kremlin has warned Kyiv's European allies that sending troops to fight in Ukraine would lead to the "inevitability" of war between Russia and NATO after France said that, despite a current lack of consensus, "nothing," including sending Western forces to fight on the Ukrainians' side, should be ruled out in terms of preventing a Russian victory in Ukraine.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

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

Speaking after a summit of continental leaders in Paris on February 26, French President Emmanuel Macron said there was a "broad consensus to do more and quicker" for Ukraine as participants agreed to create a coalition to supply Ukraine with medium- and long-range missiles and bombs to back Kyiv's efforts to stave off Russia's invasion.

Macron told a news conference that "no consensus" existed on the sending of European ground troops to Ukraine, but added, "nothing should be excluded to achieve our objective. Russia cannot win that war."

Asked about Macron's remark, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 27 that "the very fact of discussing the possibility of sending certain contingents to Ukraine from NATO countries is a very important new element."

"We would need to talk not about the probability, but about the inevitability [of a direct conflict between Russian and NATO]," Peskov said.

Several European NATO members on February 27 rejected the possibility of sending troops into Ukraine.

"What was agreed from the beginning among ourselves and with each other also applies to the future, namely that there will be no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European states or NATO states," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who attended the Paris gathering, told journalists.

In Prague, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his visiting Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, said their governments were not contemplating such a move.

"I am convinced that we should develop the paths of support that we embarked on after Russia's aggression," Fiala told a news conference alongside Tusk.

"I believe we don't need to open some other methods or ways," he added.

"Poland does not plan to send its troops to the territory of Ukraine," Tusk said.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told the Associated Press on February 27 that “NATO allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine. We have done that since 2014 and stepped up after the full-scale invasion. But there are no plans for NATO combat troops on the ground in Ukraine.”

The Paris gathering was also attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda, and leaders from the Baltic nations, while the United States was represented by its top diplomat for Europe, James O’Brien, and Britain sent Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

Zelenskiy, who addressed the summit via video link, called on European leaders to ensure that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot destroy our achievements and cannot expand his aggression to other nations.”

Ukraine relies heavily on advanced weaponry and ammunition supplies from its Western allies, mainly from the United States, to resist increasingly intense assaults by Russian forces who have superiority in manpower and a large supply of ammunition.

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

Europe will help Ukraine "to take the initiative and act together at a time when there is uncertainty on the part of the United States regarding aid," Macron said,

Participants to the gathering said there was increasing support from European countries, including France, for a Czech initiative to buy ammunition and shells outside the EU and send them to Ukraine.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands was willing to provide more than 100 million euros for that purpose.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters and dpa

Associate Says Navalny Killed As Exchange Deal To West Neared

Maria Pevchikh, the chairwoman of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (file photo)
Maria Pevchikh, the chairwoman of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (file photo)

An associate of the late Aleksei Navalny claims a prisoner swap involving the Russian opposition leader was in the final stages before he died in a remote Siberian prison.

Maria Pevchikh, the chairwoman of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a video statement on YouTube on February 26 that 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 Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who was convicted of assassinating a former Chechen fighter in Berlin in 2019.

Pevchik did not name the two U.S. citizens to be included in the exchange. 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. Navalny would be included in the deal as part of "a humanitarian exchange."

"At the beginning of February, Putin was offered to swap the FSB killer, Vadim Krasikov, who is serving time for a murder in Berlin, for two American citizens and Aleksei Navalny. I received confirmation that negotiations were at the final stage in the evening of February 15. On February 16, Aleksei was killed," Pevchikh said.

"Aleksei Navalny could have been sitting here now, today. It's not a figure of speech," she added.

Pevchikh’s statements have yet to be confirmed or rejected by other sources.

Asked at a regular news conference in Berlin on February 26 about the report, German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said she couldn’t comment.

"We have already received similar questions, and I can't answer anything other than that we can't comment on them,” she told the news conference, according to a senior press officer responding to RFE/RL's e-mail.

Earlier this month, Putin told U.S. commentator Tucker Carlson that "an agreement can be reached" to free Gershkovich, who was arrested in March 2023 in Russia on espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have rejected as groundless, in a swap for a "patriotic" Russian national currently serving out a life sentence for murder in Germany -- an apparent reference to Krasikov.

The Wall Street Journal cited Western officials at the time as saying that Putin wanted Krasikov to be released in exchange for U.S. prisoners, including Gershkovich and that Krasikov was central to any deal.

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 offered no evidence to back up her claim.

She also said Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich acted as an "informal negotiator" between the Kremlin and U.S. and European officials.

"I asked Roman Abramovich through mutual acquaintances how, when, and under what circumstances he did this, and what Putin said. Unfortunately, Abramovich did not answer these questions, but he did not deny anything either," Pevchikh said.

There was no immediate comment from Abramovich. The Kremlin has also not commented on the report.

Navalny's body was released to his family over the weekend, a week after his death was made public by the administration of the so-called "Polar Wolf" prison where he was serving a 19-year term on extremism and other charges that he and his supporters rejected as politically motivated.

No cause of death has been given.

Navalny's mother has accused Russian officials of pressuring her to have a secret burial for her son in order to avoid a massive outpouring of support for one of Putin's most vocal critics.

"The funeral is still pending. We do not know if the authorities will interfere to carry it out as the family wants and as Aleksei deserves. We will inform you as soon as there is news," his spokeswoman, Kyra Yarmysh, said on X, formerly Twitter, on February 24.

She added in a post on February 26 that "we are looking for a hall for a public farewell to Aleksei. Time: end of this work week."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 26 it was "absurd" to claim Navalny's family was being pressured.

With reporting by Reuters

Former Russian Actor Gets Life Sentence For Joining Group Fighting For Ukraine

Kirill Kanakhin
Kirill Kanakhin

A military court in Moscow on February 26 sentenced to life in prison on high-treason charge former actor Kirill Kanakhin, who joined the so-called Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against Russian troops. The court issued the sentence in absentia four months after an arrest warrant was issued for Kanakhin. He was previously added to Russia's list of extremists and terrorists. Also in November, a Moscow court sentenced in absentia Denis Kapustin (aka Nikitin), a commander of the RDK, to life in prison in absentia on the same charge. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Russian Tycoon Antipov Reportedly Detained In Fraud Case

The facilities produce high-quality steel used to produce military equipment and ammunition.
The facilities produce high-quality steel used to produce military equipment and ammunition.

Russian media reports said on February 26 that police detained oligarch Yury Antipov in an unspecified fraud case. The reports also said a court in the Sverdlovsk region ruled to nationalize Antipov's shares in a major metallurgical plant in the region, as well as his shares in two metallurgical plants in the regions of Chelyabinsk and Kemerovo. The court said the facilities were obtained through "illegal privatization" in the 1990s. The facilities produce high-quality steel used to produce military equipment and ammunition. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.


Bulgaria Bans Two Russians From Entering EU

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Bulgaria has banned two Russian citizens from entering Bulgaria and the entire European Union for five years over their alleged role in a security agency operation in the Balkan country, its state security agency said on February 26.

The State Agency for National Security, which goes by the acronym DANS, said it banned Russian citizens Vladimir Nikolayevich Gorochkin, 39, and Tatyana Anatolievna Gorochkina, 37, who DANS said presented themselves as Bulgarian nationals Denis Rashkov and Diana Rashkova.

"The main purpose of their presence in Bulgaria was to obtain the Bulgarian identity documents and credible biographical data, which they would later use to carry out intelligence activities outside Bulgaria," DANS said.

The case came after DANS earlier this month detained an employee of the EU and NATO member's General Directorate for the Fight against Organized Crime (GDBOP) for allegedly spying for Russia. An employee of DANS was also placed under investigation, supervising prosecutor Angel Kanev said on February 6.

The detained employee of the GDBOP is a 57-year-old expert in the International Cooperation and Projects sector who had active access to classified information prepared by Bulgarian services and data from partner agencies in several European countries and is said to have provided it to Russia over a long period. He had been working in the Interior Ministry since 1993 and from 2001 to 2002 was on a mission in Kosovo.

He used various methods to transmit the information, which was a mix of paper and digitally stored documents, Kanchev said.

"It's certainly not about a one-time handover or just a few documents," Kanev added, noting that his activity did not torpedo any joint operations with partner services or Bulgarian operations.

An inquiry was to be launched into the relevant European countries about the status of the documents that were handed over to Russian intelligence.

The detainee had frequent communication with the DANS employee who was also placed under investigation. As of the day of the announcement of the detention of the GDBOP employee, there was no evidence that the DANS employee had also passed information to the Russian services, but measures were taken to restrict his access to information.

Bulgaria in recent years has expelled Russian diplomats and other Russian citizens on suspicion on espionage. In September the government expelled the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia and two Belarusian priests, accusing them of serving Moscow's geopolitical interests.

The Russian Embassy reacted to the expulsions by describing them as "crude" and "flagrant" and expressed outrage at the decision.

With reporting by Reuters

Scores Of Prominent Iranians Call For Boycott Of 'Staged' Elections

A man and a child walk past campaign posters of parliamentary candidates during the first day of the election campaign in Tehran on February 22.
A man and a child walk past campaign posters of parliamentary candidates during the first day of the election campaign in Tehran on February 22.

Almost 300 political, social, and cultural figures in Iran have publicly denounced the forthcoming parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, calling for people to follow suit and not participate in the "engineered" and "staged" balloting.

"The half-hearted position and status of the institution of elections" in Iran has "reached a more deplorable situation, even compared to the previous elections," the group of 275 people, including Morteza Alviri, Abdolali Bazargan, Alireza Rajaei, Ali Babachahi, Alireza Alavitabar, and Abolfazl Ghadiani, said in a statement on February 25.

Elections for the parliament, the Majlis, are scheduled for March 1 along with voting to fill the Assembly of Experts, with a majority of would-be candidates already disqualified.

The statement highlighted the extent of the disqualifications of candidates for the 12th round of elections to the Majlis and said the "deadlock of reforms" points to a deepening crisis within the country's political landscape.

The signatories rejected justifications by some who say that Iranians should still participate even in what is seen as a flawed electoral process, saying that the previous policy of encouraging participation at any cost to push out the Islamic republic's leaders has not only been fruitless, but in fact contributed to the perpetuation of authoritarianism and political stagnation.

Emphasizing the dire state of Iran's current electoral institution, the activists outline a series of prerequisites for holding genuine, fair, and healthy elections.

These include the demand for freedom of speech, for the activities of opposition parties and associations, for the press and media, and the oversight of independent and impartial bodies on election procedures and outcomes.

The activists said those conditions aren't present in the upcoming elections, and therefore they "deem it necessary not to participate in the upcoming elections, which are clearly engineered against the public's sovereignty, and not to give in to this staging."

The statement also warns that without a genuine revival of the institution of elections, real participation in Iran's political process is "unattainable," drawing a bleak comparison to the fate of Lake Urmia, once the largest lake in the Middle East, that has now shrunk to one-10th of its original size.

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

Armenian, Azerbaijani Envoys To Meet In Berlin To Discuss Peace Agreement

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan (left), U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov (right)meet in May 2023.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan (left), U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Ceyhun Bayramov (right)meet in May 2023.

The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will meet in Berlin on February 28-29 to discuss a peace agreement between the two South Caucasus countries as agreed in Munich earlier this month, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ani Badalian told RFE/RL on February 26. Local media in Azerbaijan quoted the Foreign Ministry in Baku confirming the meeting time and place. The meeting comes days after the latest flare-up of deadly violence along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.

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