News of the Day: 22 February 2021

RFE/RL: EU foreign ministers on February 22 agreed to fresh sanctions against “specific persons” over Russia’s jailing of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and a crackdown on his allies, according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by saying it was “disappointed” at the bloc’s move and accusing the EU Foreign Affairs Council of invoking a “far-fetched pretext” to prepare “new unlawful restrictions on Russian citizens.” Moscow also rejected as “categorically unacceptable” outside demands for the release of a Russian national convicted by a Russian court, as Navalny has been in processes that he and Western governments have said are politically motivated.

The Moscow Times: Russian lawmakers are seeking to criminalize insulting World War II veterans, the state-run TASS news agency reported Monday. Amendments to a bill on the protection of historical memory will be included in its second reading in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma. They come on the heels of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s conviction on defamation charges for calling a veteran a “traitor.”  “We propose to classify public dissemination of deliberately false information about veterans of the Great Patriotic War as one of the forms of rehabilitation of Nazism,” said Irina Yarovaya, the Duma’s vice speaker and one of the authors of the amendments. “No one will ever again be able to mock our veterans with impunity and defile the memory of the defenders of the fatherland,” she added. 

RFE/RL: Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s regional office in the Siberian city of Irkutsk has published an audio recording of a disciplinary conversation between the dean of the biotechnology department of Irkutsk State Agricultural University and student activist Yevgenia Ivanchenko. Ivanchenko had posted photographs on social media showing herself participating in protests last month over the jailing of Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia from Germany on January 17. It was unclear when the conversation with the dean, Olga Ilina, took place. In the recording, posted on February 18, a voice identified as belonging to Ilina seems to justify the use of chemical weapons against Navalny, who she asserts is “destabilizing” Russia. “Chemical weapons are a government containment policy,” Ilina says. “You know what kind of world we have — it has been unipolar, bipolar, tripolar. We must protect ourselves as a state. We will develop any type of weaponry in order to resist. And people like Navalny are against. They are in favor of destabilizing the situation in Russia.”

Amnesty International: Prisoner of conscience Konstantin Kotov, who was convicted for “repeated violations of regulations of public assemblies”, left prison on 16 December after having spent one year and four months behind bars. Konstantin Kotov was arrested on 10 August 2019 for intending to participate in an “unsanctioned” peaceful rally and was subsequently sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for similar “offences”. In April 2020, his sentence was reduced to 18 months.

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