News of the Day: 2 March 2021

RFE/RL: Veteran Russian activist Lev Ponomaryov has shut his well-respected human rights organization due to the country’s controversial laws on “foreign agents.” Ponomaryov announced his decision to shut down his For Human Rights NGO in a televised interview on March 1, the day laws increasing fines for violating the so-called “foreign agent” law took effect. Ponomaryov’s organization was established as an unregistered group in 2019 after a Supreme Court ruling to liquidate his movement with the same name, which had conducted rights monitoring and advocacy for more than two decades. The original group was shut down because Ponomaryov refused to register it as a foreign agent, a requirement of a 2012 law on nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity. At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals on its “foreign agents” list and to impose restrictions on them. Ponomaryov said on March 1 that the law also now targets unregistered organizations, and therefore it is impossible for his group to continue its activities. “We have a major problem here,” Ponomaryov said. “We are in a situation where thousands of experts working for my organization across the country…may be fined en masse now.”

RFE/RL: A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of former journalist Ivan Safronov, who is charged with high treason, an accusation he has rejected outright. The Lefortovo district court on March 2 ruled that Safronov must be held until at least May 7. The hearing was held behind closed doors, as the case is classified. The 30-year-old Safronov, who has worked since May last year as an adviser to Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Roskosmos space agency, was previously a prominent journalist who covered the military-industrial complex for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti. He was arrested on July 7 amid allegations that he had passed secret information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about Russian arms sales in the Middle East.

The Guardian: The US has announced sanctions on seven Russian government officials and 13 Russian and European companies in response to the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which a US intelligence assessment confirmed to be the work of the FSB. Senior administration officials described the measures taken, which are also a response to Navalny’s continued imprisonment, as catching up with sanctions imposed on Moscow by the EU in October while the Trump administration had largely turned a blind eye.

The Moscow Times: European Council chief Charles Michel said Tuesday the EU has no plans to lift punishing sanctions against Russia that were imposed over the conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.  Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists.  Michel, who on Tuesday began his two-day visit to Ukraine with a trip to the country’s war-torn east, said “Russia has not reciprocated Ukraine’s positive steps” to settle the conflict.

RFE/RL: The United States and European Union are expected to take coordinated action against Russia as soon as March 2 over the nerve-agent poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. European diplomatic sources said on March 1 that EU member states approved sanctions on four senior Russian justice and law enforcement officials involved in the Kremlin critic’s recent detention. Meanwhile, two sources in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration told Reuters and CNN that the United States plans to take action against Russia for the poisoning of Navalny.

RFE/RL: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev turned 90 on March 2, receiving greetings from the world leaders as well as the Kremlin. Gorbachev is considered one of the greatest reformers of the 20th century. After taking over the Soviet leadership in 1985, Gorbachev introduced his reform policies known as “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring), which opened up the Soviet Union to the world, and ultimately led to the collapse of the communist regime and the end of the Cold War with the United States. “Your commitment to freedom and your courage over the decades to make the tough, albeit necessary, decisions, have made the world a safer place,” U.S. President Joe Biden wrote in a letter released by Gorbachev’s staff. The letter said that the agreed extension to the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear-arms treaty was proof that the two countries would continue Gorbechev’s “legacy.”

The Mosow Times: Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the U.S.S.R., celebrates his 90th birthday today. The longest-living Soviet leader, he is best-known for his policy of reforming the Soviet political and economic system (“perestroika”), as well as for his expansions of freedom of speech and press (“glasnost”). Abroad, he is remembered for his efforts to withdraw the Soviet Union from its war in Afghanistan and to put an end to the Cold War. He marked his 90th birthday in quarantine and like everyone else is “tired” of coronavirus restrictions, his spokesman said.

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