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Erdogan Says Serbia's Backing Crucial For Bosnia's Territorial Integrity

Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic review a guard of honor during a welcome ceremony for the latter's visit to Ankara on January 18.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Serbian counterpart that Belgrade's support for Bosnia's territorial integrity is very important and its role is critical for the peace and stability of the region.

Speaking in Ankara after talks with President Aleksandar Vucic, Erdogan also called on the leaders of Bosnia's three entities to refrain from moves that could endanger the Balkan country's territorial integrity and urged them to act "with a sense of responsibility."

He said Bosnia's Serb, Croat, and Bosniak leaders would be invited for crisis talks after Serbia's elections in April.

The crisis broke out after nationalist lawmakers in Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb entity, voted for a nonbinding measure last year to begin withdrawing from Bosnia's central armed forces, tax system, and judiciary.

The measure has long been backed by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who earlier this month was sanctioned by Washington for "destabilizing and corrupt activities and attempts to dismantle" the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

"After these (Serbian) elections, we want to bring together the leaders of these three groups and to have a meeting with them. With this meeting, let us take steps to ensure Bosnia's territorial integrity," Erdogan told a joint news conference with Vucic. "We agreed on this."

He said the meeting could take place in Istanbul or Belgrade.

Vucic told the news conference that Belgrade was committed to Bosnia's integrity and that the preservation of peace and stability in the Balkans was paramount, along "with respect for differences."

The 1995 Dayton accords created two autonomous entities -- Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation -- that share some central institutions under a weak and often dysfunctional central government.

Dodik has described Bosnia as “an experiment by the international community” and an “impossible, imposed country.”

He also has said that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces “did not take place.” The massacre was ruled a genocide by the international war crimes court.

Turkey, which has longtime historical ties with the Balkans, has criticized the Bosnian Serb legislators' move as "wrong, dangerous" and has offered to mediate in the crisis, which has raised fears of a relapse into ethnic strife in Bosnia.

Erdogan, who visited Tirana on January 17, was quoted by local media as saying Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Dodik and other regional officials had voiced support for his mediation offer.

With reporting by Reuters

U.S. Citizen Arrested For Trying To Sell Technology To Iran's Central Bank

The Iranian Central Bank is one of a number of the country's government agencies and institutions that the U.S. has banned from being sold goods and services. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- A dual U.S.-Iranian citizen has been arrested by the FBI on charges of seeking to evade U.S. export restrictions imposed on Iran.

Kambiz Attar Kashani, 44, was detained on January 14 in Chicago after he tried to ship goods and technology to the Central Bank of Iran, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

The U.S. bans the sale of goods and services to certain Iranian government agencies, including the Central Bank, on the grounds that they act for or on behalf of terrorist organizations.

Kashani used United Arab Emirate-based companies he controlled to procure electronic goods and technology from U.S. companies for eventual delivery to Iran without acquiring necessary export licenses, the Justice Department said.

Kashani is charged with one count of conspiracy to unlawfully export goods to Iran, and will be arraigned in court in Illinois on January 18.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $1 million fine.

Blinken Heads To Kyiv, Berlin As U.S. Official Warns Russia Could Attack Ukraine 'At Any Point'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine “at any point,” the White House warned, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to Kyiv and Berlin for urgent talks aimed at heading off a possible new war in Ukraine.

With Russia massing an estimated 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders and a sizable new force being deployed for snap exercises in Belarus, alarms are sounding throughout Western capitals about the danger of a new, major conflict.

Last week, Russian diplomats met with top officials from the United States, NATO, and European nations, to discuss the sweeping demands Moscow has made, demands that amount to a major restructuring of Europe’s security architecture.

The talks yielded no breakthroughs, and that, plus belligerent rhetoric from Moscow, has alarmed Western officials.

"This is an extremely dangerous situation. We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on January 18. "I would say that's more stark than we have been."

Earlier, a senior State Department official told reporters that Russian forces in Belarus were “neither an exercise, nor normal troop movement. It is a show of strength designed to cause or give false pretext for a crisis as Russian plans for a possible invasion."

After visiting Kyiv on January 19 and Berlin on January 20, Blinken is set to travel to Geneva for meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two diplomats spoke by phone on January 18.

Describing Blinken’s meeting with Lavrov, the official told reporters that it "suggests that perhaps diplomacy is not dead."

"We want to test whether there's an opportunity for a diplomatic off-ramp here, but we continue to prepare for a different outcome,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I think it is still too early to tell if the Russian government is genuinely interested in diplomacy...if it is prepared to negotiate seriously in good faith, or whether it will use discussions as a pretext to claim that diplomacy didn't address Moscow's interest," the official said.

While in Kyiv, Blinken is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other top Ukrainian officials in a show of support.

In Berlin, Blinken will meet with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, and also hold talks with officials from Britain and France.

The meetings will focus on "joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine" including the allies' "readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia,” according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Blinken's "travel and consultations are part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension caused by Russia's military buildup and continued aggression against Ukraine," Price said.

Russia’s deployment of forces along Ukraine’s border, and in the annexed region of Crimea, is one of the largest, unscheduled massing of forces since 2014, when Moscow first seized Crimea and sparked a war in eastern Ukraine.

The war has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014.

The United States and its Western allies have warned of severe consequences for Moscow if Russia launches a new offensive in Ukraine.

There is growing concern in Washington that a possible Russian attack could come via Belarus, where strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka is clinging to power with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin following large-scale, popular protests against his brutal 27-year rule.

A second senior U.S. official told reporters that Lukashenka could seek to end Belarus’s stated neutrality and host Russian troops and weapons -- including conventional and nuclear missiles -- in order to remain in power.

“We know that Putin doesn't give that support for free. It's clear Russia is preying on Lukashenka's vulnerability and calling in some of those IOUs,” the official said.

Moscow has denied any plans to attack Ukraine, and accused NATO of planning to admit Ukraine as a member of the alliance and to deploy offensive weaponry there.

In Moscow on January 18, Baerbock met Lavrov for talks on the same subject.

Lavrov said separately said that Russia would welcome U.S. diplomatic efforts and reiterated Russian accusations that Ukraine was "sabotaging" agreements aimed at ending the conflict.

The West has already imposed sanctions on Russia over Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine in a war that that has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014.

After the talks, Baerbock said Germany was ready to defend fundamental values in the conflict with Russia over Ukraine, even if this means paying “a high economic price.”

During her visit to Kyiv the previous day, the German minister warned that "any further escalation would carry a high price for the Russian regime — economic, political and strategic."

Amid growing domestic and international pressure on Berlin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on January 18 that Germany was ready to discuss halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project intended to bring more Russian gas to Western Europe should Russia attack Ukraine.

The undersea pipeline, which is 95 percent complete, will bring more Russian gas to Western Europe. Opponents, including Washington, say it will make Berlin more dependent on Moscow.

"It is clear that there will be a high price to pay and that everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention in Ukraine," Scholz told reporters, responding to a question after meeting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg said he had invited Russia and NATO allies to a series of meetings at the NATO-Russia Council to discuss ways to improve the security situation.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AFP, and AP

Nazarbaev Denies Conflict With President After Deadly Kazakh Unrest

Then-interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) and former President Nursultan Nazarbaev attend the Astana Economic Forum in Nur-Sultan in May 2019.

Kazakh ex-President Nursultan Nazarbaev has denied any conflict with his successor after deadly anti-government protests in the oil-rich Central Asian state earlier this month triggered allegations of a power struggle.

"I handed all presidential powers to Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev in 2019 and since then have been a pensioner," the 81-year-old Nazarbaev said in a heavily edited video statement released on January 18.

"I am now a retired person in the capital and never left the country," he said in his first public statement since unprecedented protests in early January that erupted into violence.

The first president of independent Kazakhstan called on his fellow citizens to support Toqaev, insisting that there is "no conflict or confrontation between elites."

It is unclear where and when the video was recorded.

Protests in the remote town of Zhanaozen in early January over a sudden fuel-price hike quickly spread across Kazakhstan and led to violent clashes in the country's largest city, Almaty, and elsewhere.

Much of the protesters' anger appeared directed at Nazarbaev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 before handing over power. However, he was widely believed to remain in control behind the scenes.

Without providing any details, Nazarbaev called the unrest "an attempt by extremist groups to violate our nation's unity."

He also said that Toqaev will very soon be elected chairman of the ruling Nur-Otan party.

The Kazakh president has claimed that "20,000 foreign terrorists" attacked Almaty, using that claim to justify his decision to invite troops to Kazakhstan from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

The troops started leaving Kazakhstan last week after spending less than a week there.

Last week, Toqaev for the first time publicly criticized Nazarbaev, saying that under his leadership many lucrative businesses and extremely rich people appeared in Kazakhstan, adding that the time had come for the people to receive what they deserved.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Nazarbaev's close relatives have lost their official posts, suggesting that the government was moving to purge or squeeze members of the ex-president's extended family.

Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, who is a lawmaker, has skipped all sessions of parliament for two weeks, with her spokeswoman saying she would be on sick leave until the end of the month.

Kazakh authorities say that 225 people were killed during the unrest, including 19 law enforcement officers, and 12,000 others were detained.

Human rights groups say the number may be much higher, and that scores of people remain missing.

In an interview to RFE/RL on January 17, Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Europe and Central Asia director, expressed deep concerns about the situation in Kazakhstan, including regarding Toqaev’s order to shoot to kill announced in the wake of violence in Almaty.

"We have not heard that the shoot-to-kill-without-warning policy has been lifted, so we continue to call for that policy to be formally cancelled,” Williamson said.

He also called on the authorities to uphold the rights of those in detention.

Toqaev's "anti-civil-society and anti-free-media rhetoric" creates "a climate in which it is more likely that, unfortunately, there may be more torture in prison or there may be trials which are not fair," he said.

Human rights groups have criticized Kazakh authorities for years for stifling dissent and persecuting independent journalists.

With reporting by AFP

Russian, Iranian Presidents To Hold Talks In Moscow

Vladimir Putin (left) will host Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow. (combo photo)

The Kremlin says President Vladimir Putin will host his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, in Moscow on January 19, amid negotiations aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

It will be Raisi's third visit outside Iran -- after Tajikistan and neighboring Turkmenistan -- since he took over the presidency in August, and the first trip by an Iranian president to Russia since 2017.

Moscow and Tehran have strong political, economic, and military ties and are key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country's decade-long civil war.

Putin and Raisi will discuss the "whole range of issues of bilateral cooperation," including the 2015 nuclear agreement that lifted crippling Western economic sanctions in exchange for curbing Tehran's nuclear program, according to a Kremlin statement.

The Iranian side said Raisi would leave on January 19 for a two-day trip to Russia along with the country's oil, foreign, and economy ministers.

A Russian lawmaker told reporters that Raisi would speak at the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, the next day, while Russia's TASS news agency reported that the Iranian president will meet with religious leaders at Moscow's main mosque.

The Iran nuclear accord began to unravel in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States and reimposed sanctions, prompting Tehran to walk back on its commitments.

Since last year, Iran has been in talks with the other signatories of the accord -- the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany -- to restore the deal, but the negotiations were suspended for around five months following Raisi's election.

The main aims of the talks, which were relaunched in November, are to get the United States to return to the deal and lift its sanctions, and for Iran to resume full compliance.

With reporting by AFP and TASS

Khamenei's Niece Kept Incommunicado In Tehran Prison, Brother Says

Farideh Moradkhani was arrested on January 14 after a video posted online showed her reciting a poem in praise of the former empress.

A civil activist and niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is being held in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison following her detention last week after she took part in a celebration praising the widow of the ousted shah, her brother has told RFE/RL.

Farideh Moradkhani, a daughter of Khamenei's sister known for her activism against the death penalty, was detained on January 14 at her home in the Iranian capital.

Her brother, Mahmud, who lives in France, said in a telephone interview late on January 17 that the charges against her remained unclear.

The authorities "didn't say why they arrested her when they took her away," he said.

"But from what we have heard, she has a thick file and I believe that it is to a great extent related to the comments she made in an online event" marking the 83 birthday of Farah Pahlavi, the widow of the last shah, he added.

Moradkhani's arrest came after a video posted online showed her reciting a poem in praise of the former empress. The activist addressed Farah as "dear mother of my homeland," and said that after she left Iran "the nation's art and culture were left without refuge and blackness enveloped this house."

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his spouse ruled Iran until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Farah is now based in France.

According to Mahmud Moradkhani, his sister's involvement in human rights activism has contributed to her arrest.

"Human rights activities and helping the families of political prisoners and victims of protest movements is considered a crime for this regime," he said.

Moradkhani is the daughter of Khamenei's sister Badri, who fled to Iraq in the 1980s at the peak of the war with Iran to join her husband, dissident cleric Ali Tehrani.

With reporting by AFP

Another Jehovah's Witness Jailed In Russia

Russia banned the Jehovah's Witnesses in 2017, describing it as an "extremist" organization.

A court in southwestern Russia has handed a two-year prison term to a Jehovah's Witness amid an ongoing crackdown on the religious group, which has been banned in the country since 2017.

The Pavlov district court in the Krasnodar region sentenced Maksim Beltikov on January 17 after finding him guilty of taking part in the activities of "extremist organization."

Prosecutors sought a three-year prison term for the 41-year-old father of three.

Since the faith was outlawed, many Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in Russia.

According to the group, dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses have either been convicted of extremism or have been held in pretrial detention.

The United States has condemned Russia's ongoing crackdown on Jehovah's Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities.

For decades, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

The Christian group is known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study, rejection of military service, and refusal to mark national and religious holidays or birthdays.

Kazakh Journalist Missing Since Deadly Unrest, Police Visit

Makhambet Abzhan in March 2021

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The wife of noted Kazakh journalist Makhambet Abzhan says he disappeared a week ago amid the unprecedented political turmoil in the Central Asian country.

Gulzira Duisembaeva told RFE/RL on January 18 that she had received no information about her husband's whereabouts since he left home in Almaty on January 6, amid the deadly anti-government protests in Kazakhstan's largest city and elsewhere.

Earlier that day, police officers visited the couple's home and tried to forcibly take Abzhan with them before he managed to force them out of the apartment, according to Duisembaeva.

She said that the police had officially informed the family's lawyer they had not detained the journalist.

Human rights activists say scores of people have gone missing during the wave of protests that rocked the oil-rich former Soviet republic early this month.

Officials have said that at least 225 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, have been killed during the unrest, which lasted for several days.

Without giving any details, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said that "20,000 foreign terrorists" attacked Almaty, using that claim to justify his decision to invite troops to Kazakhstan from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

The troops started leaving Kazakhstan last week after spending less than a week there.

Watchdog Says Jailed Russian Activist Chanysheva Denied Access To Lawyer In 'Absurd' Criminal Case

Lilia Chanysheva (right) stands next to Aleksei Navalny (center) at an event in Ufa in an undated photo.

Amnesty International says Russian authorities have arbitrarily removed four lawyers representing jailed activist Lilia Chanysheva in the "politically motivated" case against her, leaving her without a legal counsel of her choice in violation of her right to a fair trial.

The London-based human rights watchdog on January 18 urged Russian Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov to take steps to ensure that Chanysheva is released immediately and that all the "absurd" terrorism charges she is facing are dropped.

Pending that, the activist must be allowed to be represented by a lawyer of her choice, it said.

Chanysheva, the former head of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's office in the city of Ufa, in the Bashkortostan region, was arrested more than two months ago as part of a criminal case against Navalny and his associates.

She has since been remanded in pretrial detention. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

On January 17, which marked the first anniversary of Navalny's arrest, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell deplored the persecution of members of Navalny's network, and urged Russia to immediately and unconditionally release Chanysheva.

In late November, Chanysheva was transferred from Ufa to Moscow, nearly 1,500 kilometers away from her hometown.

Since December 10, officers of the Investigative Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service have barred, under "false pretext," four lawyers from representing and visiting Chanysheva in detention, according to Amnesty International.

The accusations against Chanysheva stem from her peaceful civic and political activities as a regional coordinator of "Navalny's headquarters," which have been falsely considered "extremist," the group said.

Chanysheva "is just another victim" of the Russian authorities' crackdown on Navalny's associates and supporters, according to Amnesty, which said her prosecution was "unfounded" and violated her rights to freedom of expression and association.

In June 2021, a Moscow court banned as "extremist" civil-society organizations linked to Navalny, and the authorities announced in September a new criminal investigation against the vocal Kremlin critic and his associates on charges of "establishment of an extremist association."

This probe was joined with four other criminal cases against Navalny as well as his colleagues and supporters. Chanysheva is the first Navalny associate who has been arrested under this case.

Navalny was detained in a Moscow airport a year ago upon his arrival from Berlin, where he had been recovering after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020.

A Moscow court later ruled that, while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole imposed from a 2014 embezzlement case that is widely considered as being politically motivated.

Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had been held in detention.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service

Iranian-Swedish Former Leader Of Arab Separatist Group Goes On Trial In Iran

Habib Chaab was abducted during a visit to Turkey in October 2020. (file photo)

A Tehran court has kicked off the trial of an Iranian-Swedish dissident accused by Iran of being behind a string of attacks for an Arab separatist group, local media report.

The first hearing in Habib Chaab's trial was held on January 18 at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court, the semiofficial ISNA news agency said.

According to the judiciary's Mizan Online agency, the defendant is accused of "managing and leading a terrorist group," as well as of "planning and carrying out numerous bombings and terrorist operations" in the southwestern province of Khuzestan.

Prosecutions in Iran's so-called Revolutionary Courts are frequently kept secret from defendants' families and even lawyers. Torture, mistreatment, and forced confessions are also common, according to rights groups.

Chaab, a founder and former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) separatist group, lived in Sweden for 14 years until he was apparently "lured" to Turkey by Iranian intelligence agents.

He went missing during a visit to Turkey in October 2020 and a month later appeared on Iranian state television.

In December 2020, Turkish authorities announced the arrest of 11 people suspected of spying and involvement in the alleged kidnapping of Chaab on behalf of Iran.

ASMLA, which has an armed branch and seeks a separate state for ethnic Arabs in oil-producing Khuzestan, is considered a terrorist group by Tehran.

The group has been blamed by Iran for a series attacks on government institutions, oil facilities, and other infrastructure over the years.

In the indictment, Chaab, also known as Habib Asyud, is accused of being behind a deadly 2018 terror attack on a military parade in Khuzestan's capital, Ahvaz, that left at least 25 dead, including civilians.

ASMLA is primarily based in the Netherlands and Denmark.

In April 2021, three of its leaders went on trial in Denmark on charges of financing and promoting terrorism in Iran with Saudi Arabia's backing.

In late October 2018, the Danish intelligence service accused the Iranian intelligence service of plotting to assassinate at least one of the three leaders of the group's Danish branch, which Tehran denied.

A Danish court in 2020 sentenced a Norwegian-Iranian to seven years for his role in the assassination plot.

In November 2017, a leader of ASMLA was shot dead in The Hague in an attack the Dutch government said was linked to Iran.

With reporting by AFP and ISNA

UN Aviation Agency Finishes Report On Flight Diverted To Belarus

A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Raman Pratasevich when it was diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius airport in Lithuania on May 23, 2021.

The UN's civil aviation agency has completed a report about the investigation into Belarus's diversion of a Ryanair flight last year to arrest a dissident journalist.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on January 17 that the fact-finding report was made accessible to all 193 members, including the 36 states currently serving on the organization's council.

Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were detained in May 2021 when Belarus scrambled a military jet to escort their Athens-to-Vilnius Ryanair flight to land in Minsk.

Belarusian authorities had claimed they acted because of a bomb threat that proved to be false.

Many countries condemned the action ordered by Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a "state hijacking" of a passenger aircraft.

Britain and the European Union responded by telling airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and banning the country's flagship carrier, Belavia. Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and the European Union, announced fresh sanctions against Belarus in response to the incident.

"Council representatives will formally consider any further actions to be taken by ICAO as a result of the report's findings during a meeting presently scheduled for 31 January," the Montreal-based organization said in a statement.

"On that day the council will also review a request from Belarus regarding what the state considers to have been unlawful restrictions or sanctions which were placed upon it in the aftermath of the event, by other states and the EU," it added.

The report, which was repeatedly delayed, was written by experts in the fields of aviation security, aircraft operations, air navigation, and international air law.

Pratasevich faces charges of playing a role in civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Pratasevich was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live, which covered the mass protests against the official results of the election, which handed Lukashenka a sixth presidential term despite widespread criticism that the vote was rigged.

Sapega faces several charges related to sharing information about the protests. If convicted, she could face up to six years in prison.

Pratasevich and Sapega are currently under house arrest.

Lukashenka's regime is already internationally isolated over its brutal crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement. The European Union, United States, and other countries have slapped several rounds of coordinated sanctions on Belarus.

Russian Artist Arrested For Giant Poop Snow Sculpture

Artist Ivan Volkov's giant snow sculpture in St. Petersburg's Field of Mars.

A Russian artist has been arrested for creating a large snow sculpture that depicts feces near a burial site in St. Petersburg.

Police and local media on January 17 said that Ivan Volkov was criminally charged for desecrating the burial place of the dead when he created the 5-meter-long sculpture.

The sculpture was in St. Petersburg's Field of Mars, where those who died in the 1917 Russian Revolution are buried.

Volkov, 29, posted pictures of the poop on Facebook and Instagram, commenting that he did not put "any particular meaning into the work."

The posts have since been removed.

If convicted, the artist faces a fine or up to five years in jail.

Volkov has created some 30 snow paintings or sculptures in recent years, including one honoring doctors treating coronavirus cases.

Kyrgyz Customs Chief Detained On Suspicion Of Corruption

State Customs Service chief Adilet Kubanychbekov recently told RFE/RL that all corruption in the service had been eradicated.

BISHKEK -- The head of Kyrgyzstan's State Customs Service, Adilet Kubanychbekov, has been arrested on accusations of corruption.

The State Committee for National Security (UKMK) said on January 17 that Kubanychbekov and his subordinates were suspected of receiving bribes to illegally create advantages for some import firms.

Kubanychbekov was appointed to the post in October 2021.

Last month, he told RFE/RL that all corruption in the Customs Service had been eradicated.

The Central Asian state's Customs Service has been criticized for widespread corruption for years.

In 2019, an investigation by RFE/RL, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and Kloop implicated former deputy chief of the customs service Raimbek Matraimov in a corruption scheme involving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars out of Kyrgyzstan by Chinese-born Uyghur businessman Aierken Saimaiti, who was subsequently assassinated in Istanbul in November 2019.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the estimated $700 million scheme involved a company controlled by Matraimov bribing officials to skirt customs fees and regulations, as well as engaging in money laundering, "allowing for maximum profits."

Lockdown Imposed Again In 'Coronavirus-Free' Turkmenistan

There have been no official statements about the lockdown, with people learning about the measure from written announcements on the doors of public places and shops. (file photo)

ASHGABAT -- Authorities in Turkmenistan have introduced a lockdown without any official announcement, continuing to deny a single coronavirus case has been registered in the country.

Marketplaces, department stores, except food shops, as well as bars, restaurants, and other public places in all regional capitals have been closed since January 16.

In Ashgabat, the capital, the lockdown was imposed on January 15.

RFE/RL's Coverage Of COVID-19

Features and analysis, videos, and infographics explore how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the countries in our region.

RFE/RL's correspondents report that there were no official statements about the lockdown and citizens were learning about the measure from written announcements on the doors of public places and shops.

It is not clear for how long the new lockdown was introduced.

Medical personnel in regional capitals told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that local hospitals were overcrowded, as the number of patients, especially among teenagers and university students, had increased in recent days.

A previous lockdown that lasted for almost four months was lifted in early December.

Turkmenistan's government still clings to its narrative that the country has no cases of coronavirus -- even though practically no one believes the claim.

Bulgaria Adds Anti-COVID Restrictions For Travelers From North Macedonia, Serbia

Protesters scuffle with police as they try to enter the parliament building during a far-right rally against the government measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Sofia on January 12.

Bulgaria will start requiring travelers from nearby North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, and Israel to provide negative PCR coronavirus tests on top of valid COVID-19 certificates before entering the country beginning on January 20.

The new obligation was announced by the Health Ministry in Bulgaria.

It essentially reverses previous exceptions for travelers from those countries, and places them under similar requirements already in place for entrants from all EU member states except neighboring Romania.

Bulgaria is already among the worst-affected and least-vaccinated countries from COVID-19, and is bracing for a surge from the highly contagious omicron variant.

Last week, Bulgaria recorded its highest daily coronavirus infection rate since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

As of January 16, it had a seven-day rolling average of 5,741 new infections per day, in a country of around 7 million people.

Based on reporting by Reuters

U.S. Senators In Kyiv Reaffirm Bipartisan Support For Ukraine

U.S. Senators In Kyiv Reaffirm Bipartisan Support For Ukraine
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U.S. senators visiting Kyiv have reaffirmed bipartisan support for Ukraine. Speaking to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on January 17, Senator Rob Portman warned about "devastating sanctions" should the Russians "make a terrible mistake and proceed with the use of troops" against Ukraine. Senator Chris Murphy added that it should be up to the Ukrainians as to how they structure their political and security alliances. The visit comes as Russia has massed troops along the border in recent weeks, prompting concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning to attack Ukraine, something Moscow has denied.

Defiant Ex-President Poroshenko Returns To Ukraine To Face Treason Charges

Defiant Ex-President Poroshenko Returns To Ukraine To Face Treason Charges
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Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was defiant as he landed in Kyiv on January 17 to fight charges of treason that he rejects as politically motivated. The 56-year-old is accused of selling coal that helped finance Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine while he was in office. A court was expected to rule on whether Poroshenko will be detained pending an investigation and trial.

Belarus To Hold Military Drills With Russia In February Amid Tensions With West

Alyaksandr Lukashenka (file photo)

MINSK -- Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said that joint military maneuvers will be held with Russia in February close to the borders with Ukraine as well as eastern NATO member states.

Speaking during a meeting with Belarusian military officials on January 17, Lukashenka said that the exact dates of the drills had not been determined yet. He did not specify how many troops would be involved.

The secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, Alyaksandr Volfavich, later told the BelTA news agency that Russian military forces and hardware had begun arriving in the country.

The announcement comes as tensions between the West and Moscow have been growing in recent months over the security of Ukraine, a Western ally that borders both Belarus and Russia.

Kyiv has been battling Kremlin-backed separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.

Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine in what Kyiv and its Western allies fear could be preparations for a potential invasion, something Moscow has denied.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to back ally Lukashenka in his standoff with the West over a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that handed the Belarusian leader a sixth consecutive term in office.

The official election results triggered a wave of protests, with Lukashenka responding with a brutal crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands detained and most opposition politicians leaving the country fearing for their safety.

Lukashenka said on January 17 that next month's military exercises with Russia should focus on a scenario in which his country's military is forced to "resist forces coming from the West."

Without giving evidence, he justified the drills by claiming there was a buildup of troops along Belarus's border with Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states.

Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are both EU and NATO member states.

Last week, the United States and its NATO allies held negotiations with Russia aimed at easing tensions over Ukraine, but the talks failed to make significant progress.

What Comes Next After A Clash Of Diplomacy Between Russia, The U.S., And NATO?
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Putin has issued a series of demands for security guarantees in Europe, including NATO not accepting new members like Ukraine and Georgia and limits on allied deployments in Eastern European NATO members.

Western officials say Russia's combative rhetoric and troop buildup near Ukraine is an attempt to pressure the United States and European allies into bending on the Kremlin's wish list.

Moscow insists its military deployment is a response to what it sees as the growing presence of NATO in its sphere of influence and denies it plans to invade Ukraine.

With reporting by BelTA

Azerbaijani Opposition Politician 'Beat Himself' In Police Custody, Prosecutor Says

At the time of his arrest, an Interior Ministry spokesman called Tofiq Yaqublu's claim that he was beaten by the police "groundless."

BAKU -- Prosecutors in Azerbaijan have refused to launch a probe into the severe beating of leading opposition politician Tofiq Yaqublu while in detention last month.

The prosecutor's office in Baku's Sabail district ruled on January 17 that Yaqublu "suffered from self-inflicted injuries."

According to investigator Araz Akbarov, the politician hit a police car door with his head while he was being detained during unsanctioned rallies in the capital on December 1, and later punched himself in the police station he had been taken to.

Yaqublu, a member of the Coordination Center of Azerbaijan's Democratic Forces' National Council and a leading member of the opposition Musavat Party, told RFE/RL that he will appeal the decision.

On December 1, he was rushed to a hospital after being released from custody with deep bruises on his face and body.

At the time, Interior Ministry spokesman Elsad Haciyev called Yaqublu's claim that he was beaten by the police "groundless."

Human Rights Watch called on the Azerbaijani authorities to conduct a "prompt, impartial, and thorough" investigation into the "horrific mistreatment" of the government critic.

Opponents of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Western countries, and international human rights groups say the government has persistently persecuted critics, political foes, independent media, and civic activists.

Aliyev, who has ruled the country of almost 10 million people since shortly before the death of his father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev, in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.

Britain Sends New Weapons To Ukraine As U.S., Germany Warn Russia, Urge Diplomacy

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (right) meets with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Kyiv on January 17.

U.S. and British officials have pledged support and new weapons to Ukraine as Germany issued further calls for diplomacy and warnings to Moscow amid a troop buildup in western Russia.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on January 17 that Britain was providing Ukraine with new "defensive weapons systems," and announced a fresh diplomatic overture toward Moscow.

"We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armor, defensive weapon systems," Wallace told Parliament.

He added: "They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defense."

Wallace also said he was inviting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to London for talks in the coming weeks to help defuse the crisis.

Kyiv and its Western backers say Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks in what could be preparations for a potential invasion, something Moscow has denied.

A U.S. Congressional delegation that arrived in Kyiv on January 17 to "help deter further Russian aggression," meanwhile, underscored Western resolve in the face of the Russian threat.

U.S. Senators In Kyiv Reaffirm Bipartisan Support For Ukraine
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"I think [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has made the biggest mistake of his career in underestimating how courageously the people of Ukraine will fight him if he invades," Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat-Connecticut) told journalists after the delegation met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"And we will impose crippling economic sanctions, but more important we will give the people of Ukraine the arms, lethal arms, they need to defend their lives and livelihoods," Blumenthal added.

He said such weapons could include Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger missiles, small arms, and boats.

"And so our message is: There will be consequences if he chooses to violate the sanctity of this democracy," Senator Amy Klobuchar (Democrat-Minnesota) said.

Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service of U.S. military aid that Washington wants "to make sure that Ukraine gets equipment to defend itself which is not offensive in nature."

Senator Rob Portman (Republican-Ohio) told RFE/RL that U.S. officials were "very concerned with what we see" and were also "talking about additional sanctions" against Russia.

The U.S. Congressional delegation also included Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) and Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi).

Earlier on January 17, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told Ukrainians during a visit to Kyiv that diplomacy was "the only way" to resolve the tense standoff between Moscow and the West over Ukraine. She repeated warnings that Russia would pay a "high price" if it launched an attack on its neighbor.

"We will do our all to guarantee Ukraine's security. We will do our all to guarantee Europe's security," Baerbock told a joint press conference in Kyiv with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.

"Each further aggressive act will have a high price for Russia, economically, strategically, politically," said Baerbock, a day before she is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

In 2014, Russia seized Crimea and began supporting separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine in an ongoing war that has claimed more than 13,200 lives.

Kyiv and its Western backers say Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks in what could be preparations for a potential invasion, something Moscow has denied.

Talks between Moscow and Western countries on Russia's military buildup ended with no breakthrough last week.

A cyberattack that disabled Ukraine's government websites has further inflamed tensions, with Kyiv accusing Russia of being behind it. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Addressing the press briefing on January 17, Kuleba said Ukraine and Germany were united in pushing to revive four-way talks on putting an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine in the so-called "Normandy" format, which includes Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly sought reassurances from the West that no decisions will be made about the future of their country without Kyiv's involvement and assent.

"It is important for us now that neither Berlin nor Paris makes any decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, and does not play any game behind our backs in relations with Russia," said Kuleba, who thanked Baerbock "for taking such a principled position."

Kyiv fiercely opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project aimed at shipping Russian natural gas to Germany, bypassing Ukrainian territory.

Baerbock noted that the project was now on hold and should fully comply with European energy regulations.

In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the project's certification should not be "artificially delayed and politicized" by German regulators and the European Commission.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, TASS, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Djokovic Lands In Belgrade After Deportation From Australia, With Another Slam Now In Doubt

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (right) arrives at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade on January 17.

BELGRADE -- World tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic has arrived in his native Serbia after being deported from Australia because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, putting an end to his hopes of defending his Australian Open title.

On January 17, an aircraft carrying Djokovic from his stopover in the United Arab Emirates touched down at Belgrade’s airport, where he was greeted by a small group of fans waving the Serbian flag.

The Australian Open started on the same day in Melbourne, where Djokovic has won nine titles.

He had hoped this year to win his 21st Grand Slam singles trophy there, breaking the record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.

Djokovic left Melbourne after Australia's Federal Court upheld a decision by Australian authorities to cancel the visa of the 34-year-old Serbian athlete on public interest grounds because he is not vaccinated for COVID-19.

Djokovic had tried to use a medical exemption to get around the requirements that everyone at the Australian Open -- players, their support teams, spectators, and others -- be vaccinated.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the court ruling will help "keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe."

Djokovic said he was "extremely disappointed" by the decision, while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Australian authorities of "harassing and bullying...the best tennis player ever."

The men's tennis governing body ATP expressed regret that Djokovic -- "one of [the] sport's greatest champions"-- can't play at the Australian tournament, while also pointing out that it "continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players."

But even as he flew home, signs emerged that Djokovic might face further obstacles on the tennis circuit.

Multiple officials in France, which hosts the calendar year's second Grand Slam, suggested that they might also bar any unvaccinated athletes from competing at Roland Garros in Paris in May and June.

That would contradict previous plans to create a "bubble" around the French Open to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among athletes, coaches, organizers, and fans.

"To do your job, to come for pleasure or leisure, to practice a sport, it will be necessary to present a [proof of] vaccine," French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told BFM television. "This will be valid for people who live in France but also for foreigners who come to our country for vacation or for a major sports competition."

French lawmaker Christophe Castaner said that new legislation in the works to limit access of the unvaccinated to stadiums will apply to anyone who wants to play in the French Open.

But details of the French bill reportedly must still be worked out, including for people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as Djokovic claimed when he applied for an exemption to travel to Melbourne.

French President Emmanuel Macron famously said recently he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated in an effort to boost vaccination levels as France battles a new wave of coronavirus infection fueled by the omicron variant.

With reporting by AP

Kazakh Activist Abishev Dies Three Months After Release From Prison

Kazakh activist Kenzhebek Abishev (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan --Noted Kazakh civil rights activist Kenzhebek Abishev has died at the age of 55, three months after he was released from prison.

Abishev's wife, Gulmira Abisheva, told RFE/RL that her husband died early on the morning of January 17 in what ambulance workers described as a heart attack.

Abishev was sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2018 after he and two other activists were found guilty of planning a "holy war" because they were spreading the ideas of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement. His prison term was later cut by eight months.

The activist, who rejected all the charges against him and was declared a political prisoner by domestic human rights groups, was granted early release in October 2021.

In April last year, Abishev was rushed from prison to the Qapshaghai City Hospital as his condition worsened due to a hunger strike he had started to protest against his imprisonment and prison conditions in general.

Physicians then diagnosed him with coronary heart disease.

Human rights groups have criticized Kazakh authorities for years for stifling dissent and persecuting independent journalists.

More Nazarbaev Relatives Lose Posts After Kazakhstan Unrest

Kazakhstan's National Chamber of Entrepreneurs has announced the resignation of its chairman, former President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, one of the richest people in the oil-rich former Soviet republic. (file photo)

NUR-SULTAN -- Two more close relatives of Nursultan Nazarbaev have lost their posts in the latest indication that the Kazakh government was moving to purge or squeeze members of the former president’s extended family in the wake of unprecedented political turmoil.

On January 17, Kazakhstan's National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, Atameken, announced the resignation of its chairman, Timur Kulibaev, a son-in-law of Nazarbaev.

Kulibaev, one of the richest people in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, is the husband of Nazarbaev's second daughter, Dinara.

Nursultan Nazarbaev's nephew Samat Abish (file photo)
Nursultan Nazarbaev's nephew Samat Abish (file photo)

The same day, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev issued a decree to dismiss Nazarbaev's nephew Samat Abish from the post of deputy chairman of the Committee for National Security (KNB).

The moves came after two other sons-in-law of Nazarbaev were pushed out of top jobs at two major state energy companies.

Earlier, one of Nazarbaev's closest associates, KNB Chairman Karim Masimov, and his two deputies were arrested on high-treason charges.

Parts of Kazakhstan remain under a state of emergency imposed following deadly anti-government protests in early January.

Kazakh officials said over the weekend that at least 225 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed during the unrest.

On January 17, journalists Asem Zhapisheva and Bella Orynbetova called on the authorities to publish the names of those killed, amid claims by some human rights activists that many of the victims were passersby who had nothing to do with the protests.

Without giving any details, Toqaev has claimed that thousands of "foreign terrorists" attacked the Central Asian nation's commercial capital, Almaty, and used that claim to justify his order to shoot to kill and his decision to invite troops to the country from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance.

The troops started leaving Kazakhstan last week after spending less than a week there.

Iranian Supreme Leader's Niece 'Arrested' After Praising Ex-Royalty

Iranian activist Farideh Moradkhani (file photo)

A civil activist and niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was arrested last week, her brother and activists say, after she praised a member of Iran's former royalty.

Agents of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry arrested Farideh Moradkhani on January 14, while some of her personal belongings were confiscated in a raid on her home, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based news outlet that covers news in Iran.

The agency said on January 16 that Moradkhani had been transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison.

"We are very worried, we did not have news...we now know she is in Evin prison" and under the control of the Intelligence Ministry, her brother Mahmud Moradkhani, who lives in France, told the London-based Iran International Persian-language satellite news channel.

Moradkhani, a daughter of Khamenei's sister, is known in Iran for her activism against the death penalty and for civil freedoms in the country.

Her reported arrest came after a video posted on social media showed her praising Farah Diba, the widow of the last Shah, during an online event marking the former queen’s 83rd birthday. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Farah is now based in France.

Moradkhani’s father is anti-Islamic Republic dissident Sheikh Ali Tehrani, who spent 10 years in prison in Iran.

With reporting by HRANA, AFP, and Iran International

A Year After Arrest, Russia's Navalny Says He Has No Regrets

Aleksei Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow on January 17 last year.

Aleksei Navalny says he has no regrets and has called on his supporters not to be "afraid," a year to the day the opposition politician was detained after returning to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning.

"I sided with those honest people who do not want to be, or cannot be, scared any more. I did it, I don't regret it for a second, and I will continue doing it," Navalny, who is serving time in an old embezzlement case that is widely considered as being politically motivated, said in a post on Instagram on January 17.

"Having served my first year in prison, I want to tell everyone exactly what I shouted to those gathered outside the court when a convoy led me to a police van: Don't be afraid of anything," the vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin said.

"This is our country and we have no other," Navalny wrote, also posting a photo of himself wearing an inmate's uniform, with his arm around his wife, Yulia.

Amnesty International marked the first anniversary of Navalny's arrest by urging the international community and people across the world to join their voices to call for his release, and put an end to their "unprecedented campaign of repression and reprisals" against his supporters.

Navalny, 45, was detained in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on January 17, 2021 upon his arrival from Berlin, where he had been recovering after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020.

A Moscow court ruled two weeks later that, while in Germany, he had violated the terms of parole imposed from a widely criticized 2014 embezzlement case.

Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a jail term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time he had been held in detention.

Navalny Versus Putin: A Yearlong War Of Words
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The opposition politician has claimed his near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok-type nerve agent was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning.

In his Instagram post on January 17, Navalny said he didn't know when his imprisonment "will end and whether it will end at all."

Speaking in a phone interview with Current Time, a lawyer for Navalny said that "everything is being done...so that he is kept in prison as long as possible."

"And I think that this period may be indefinite, given the huge number of criminal cases that have been initiated against him and are being investigated," Olga Mikhailova said.

In the year since Navalny's detention, the Kremlin critic, his supporters, and Russian civil society organizations "have suffered a relentless onslaught of repression," Marie Struthers, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement on January 17.

"Dozens of Navalny’s associates and supporters are facing prosecutions on bogus charges, while a growing number of them are already in prison," Struthers said, while the Russian authorities "have labelled his organizations as 'extremist' and blocked their websites."

Some of Navalny's associates have fled the country fearing political persecution, "yet they now fear their relatives in Russia will suffer a similar fate of unfounded prosecution and imprisonment," she said. "On the anniversary of his detention, Navalny and the political activists associated with him are in a living hell."

In June 2021, two organizations founded by Navalny-- the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens’ Rights Defense Foundation (FZPG) -- were officially labelled as “extremist” and banned. Their activities have since been criminalized.

5 Things To Know About Russian Opposition Leader Aleksei Navalny
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In September 2021, a criminal case was opened against Navalny and his associates under the charge of creating an "extremist association," while the opposition politician also faces up to 15 additional years in prison if convicted on charges that include fraud and money laundering in relation to alleged misappropriation of donations to his nongovernmental organizations.

On January 14 this year, two associates of Navalny -- Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov -- were added to a Russian list of "extremists and terrorists," and their assets in the country are now blocked.

Zhdanov's father was handed a suspended prison sentence last year in a corruption case that critics say is politically motivated.

"The callous actions of the Kremlin, who remain hellbent on silencing and vilifying Aleksei Navalny and his supporters, must end now," Struthers said, adding that the people of Russia “should not have to suffer from the relentless suppression of their human rights.”

According to Struthers, more than 360,000 people around the world have signed a petition launched by Amnesty International that calls for the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Navalny.

On January 17, the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release of Lilia Chanysheva, the former head of Navalny's office in the city of Ufa, in Bashkortostan.

Chanysheva was ordered last month to remain in pretrial detention until April 9.

Thousands of Russians were detained during nationwide protests in January 2021 calling for his release.

Navalny's imprisonment and poisoning also sparked an international outcry, with the European Union, Britain, and other countries imposing further sanctions on Russian officials.

European lawmakers chose Navalny as the recipient of the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on October 20, saying he "has campaigned consistently against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime."

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