Wife of opposition leader Navalny says his body was abused after death; funeral to be held Friday

Russia on Wednesday said it regrets that Sweden is set to join NATO and pledged to take some retaliatory measures to protect itself.

“Russia will take retaliatory measures of a political and military-technical nature in order to stop threats to its national security. Their specific content will depend on the conditions and scale of Sweden’s integration into NATO, including the possible deployment of NATO troops, strike systems and weapons on the territory of this country,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a post via Telegram, according to a Google translation.

Russia said that while security matters are a sovereign question for Sweden, the move would have a negative impact on northern Europe’s stability and the Baltic Sea region, which is shared by Sweden, Russia and various other countries.

Sweden bid to join NATO, where an attack one member country is seen as an attack on all members, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. After long-standing opposition, Hungary on Monday voted to approve the bid, clearing the way for Sweden to join the alliance.

— Sophie Kiderlin

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said on Wednesday that it was “appalled” by the sentencing of activist Oleg Orlov.

The 70-year-old is one of the leaders of human rights group Memorial, which shared the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The sentence against Mr. Orlov is politically motivated and provides another proof of the increasing disrespect for human rights and freedom of speech in today’s Russia,” Jorgen Watne Frydnes, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in a statement.

Orlov was sentenced to two and half years in prison on Tuesday after being found guilty of discrediting Russian’s armed forces by a Russian court.

— Sophie Kiderlin

European leaders should discuss using the profits from frozen Russian assets to boost Ukraine’s military, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.

“It is time to start a conversation about using the windfall profits of frozen Russian assets to jointly purchase military equipment for Ukraine,” she said in a speech before the European Parliament.

“There could be no stronger symbol and no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live,” von der Leyen noted.

Von der Leyen’s comments come after U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday said it is important to find a way to unlock the value of frozen assets to bolster Ukraine, stressing there is a “strong international law, economic and moral case” to do so, and that it was crucial for allies to work together on the matter.

Read the full story here.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Yulia Navalnaya (first row, 3rdL), widow of Kremlin opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died on February 16 in a Russian prison, is applauded by European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (first row, 3rdR) after addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on February 28, 2024. 

Frederick Florin | Afp | Getty Images

Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of dead Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny told European lawmakers Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin must answer for what he has done with Russia, Ukraine, and Navalny.

“Putin must answer for what he has done with my country, Putin must answer for what he has done to a neighboring peaceful country and Putin must answer for everything he has done to Alexei,” she said.

Addressing the European Parliament, Navalnaya said Putin could not be negotiated with and was “capable of anything.” If you want to defeat Putin, she said, you have to be innovative; “You cannot hurt him with resolutions or a set of sanctions,” she said.

Navalny’s wife, wider family and supporters accuse the Kremlin of ordering Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony earlier in February. The Kremlin denies involvement in his death.

Addressing the Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Navalnaya accused the Russian authorities of torturing Navalny while in prison “on Putin’s orders,” and then of abusing his body after his death. She did not give any further details. CNBC has contacted the Kremlin for a response to the allegations. Navalny’s family and supporters criticized Russia’s authorities for initially refusing to release his body for burial. His remains were released to the family last Saturday.

Navalny’s funeral is due to take place in Moscow on Friday, with Navalnaya telling parliamentarians that she wasn’t sure if the occasion would be peaceful or whether Russian police would make arrests.

Navalnaya has become something of a figurehead for Russia’s opposition — many of whom are imprisoned, living abroad or dead — following the death of her husband.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama walk away after a photocall ahead of Ukraine-Western Balkans Summit, in Tirana on February 28, 2024. 

Adnan Beci | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in the Albanian capital of Tirana, where he will attend a summit with countries of the Western Balkans and hold bilateral meetings with their leaders, his office said.

Kyiv is seeking international support for a Zelenskyy peace plan as Russia’s invasion drags into its third year and Ukrainian troops struggle to hold ground against Russian attacks.

“I will propose supporting Ukraine’s efforts to achieve (a) just and lasting peace, as well as organizing the Global Peace Summit in Switzerland,” the Ukrainian leader said in a statement.

Zelenskyy, who was in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, is scheduled to meet Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama as well as the leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro.

Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro are NATO members and have joined Western sanctions against Russia and sent weapons and equipment to Ukraine.

“A pivotal moment for fostering bilateral ties, and standing in solidarity with Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russia’s aggression,” Albanian Foreign Minister Igli Hasani wrote on X shortly after Zelenskyy’s arrival.

Longtime Moscow ally Serbia has not imposed sanctions, and neither Belgrade nor Kyiv recognize the independence of Kosovo, Serbia’s former predominantly Albanian southern province which supports Ukraine and is seeking European Union and NATO membership.

— Reuters

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 23, 2024. 

– | Afp | Getty Images

The funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will be held on Friday in Moscow, his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said Wednesday.

The funeral will take place at the Borisovskoye cemetery after a ceremony at a church in the Maryino district of the city at 2 p.m. local time.

“Come early,” Yarmysh told her followers on X, formerly Twitter. It’s likely that there will be a strong police presence at the funeral given that a large number of Navalny’s supporters are likely to attend.

Yarmysh said Tuesday that various funeral venues refused to accommodate the service, with one location reportedly telling her that they’d been ordered not to host a service.

“Since yesterday we have been looking for a place where we can organize a farewell event for Alexey. We have called most of the private and public funeral agencies, commercial venues and funeral halls. Some of them say the place is fully booked. Some refuse when we mention the surname ‘Navalny’,” she said, adding that “in one place, we were told that the funeral agencies were forbidden to work with us.”

Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony on Feb. 16 remains unexplained, with Navalny’s supporters accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating his murder. The Kremlin denies any involvement.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, had to lobby Russia’s prison authorities and President Vladimir Putin to release her son’s body for burial before it was handed over on Feb. 24.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) welcomes the Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui (L) at the Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Russia on May 26, 2023.

Russian Foreign Ministry | Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

China’s special representative will conduct a second round of shuttle diplomacy about the Ukraine war, although he will not visit Ukraine itself, China’s foreign ministry announced Wednesday.

“Li Hui, the Chinese government’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, will visit Russia, the EU headquarters, Poland, Ukraine, Germany and France starting from March 2 to conduct a second round of shuttle diplomacy to promote a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said, according to an NBC translation.

China frequently describes Russia’s two-year war against Ukraine as a “crisis” and has refused to condemn the invasion carried out by allied Moscow. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have described themselves as the best of friends.

Beijing has, nonetheless, tried to position itself as a potential peace broker between the warring parties and is seen as one of the few countries — perhaps the only country — that could exert influence over Moscow.

— Holly Ellyatt

A man makes a selfie photo in front of the Kremlin’s Spasskaya tower and St. Basil’s cathedral in downtown Moscow on September 11, 2023. Russia’s Elections Commission said that the pro-Kremlin United Russia part had won local elections in four regions of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, in a vote dismissed by Kyiv. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) (Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian officials appear to be relishing the gaffe made this week by French President Emmanuel Macron after he suggested that NATO countries had discussed the possibility of Western ground troops being deployed in Ukraine, saying such an eventuality could not be “ruled out.”

Macron’s suggestion was widely and very publicly rejected by NATO member countries yesterday. Germany, the U.K., Spain, Poland and NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg were among those denying that sending ground troops into Ukraine was an option.

The Kremlin had warned earlier Tuesday that such a move would lead to an “inevitable” conflict between NATO and Russia. Since then, state-run Russian media has been dominated by Russian officials relishing the obvious division in NATO, and Macron’s apparent misreading of the NATO mood music.

“Macron made a number of loud statements, including the possibility of sending NATO troops to Ukraine, which horrified the residents of his country and the leaders of a number of European states,” Russian State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said on his Telegram channel.

“To maintain personal power, Macron came up with nothing better than to spark a third world war. His initiatives are becoming dangerous for French citizens,” Volodin added.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed Wednesday that Ukraine is facing a “catastrophic” situation at the front Russia is currently enjoying a spate of small territorial gains in eastern Ukraine and that Macron’s statement had not helped the country.

“The situation at the front for the Kyiv regime is monstrous, catastrophic,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told the Sputnik radio station, Tass news agency reported.

She claimed NATO countries’ denials that they planned to send their ground troops into Ukraine showed the West had “betrayed Ukraine and will continue to use and betray it,” repeating Moscow’s baseless claims that Western countries are using Ukraine to destroy Russia.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine needs weapons urgently, rather than Western ground troops, Petro Poroshenko says

Ukraine desperately needs more military equipment in order to beat Russia, not Western troops on the ground — a controversial suggestion mooted by France this week the country’s former president told CNBC.

“I see with my eyes the position of Russian troops and heroic Ukrainian soldiers … we need up to date weapons for our troops … Now, in 2024, now urgently, we need F-16s [fighter jets] and instead we don’t have [them], we don’t have ammunition, we don’t have tanks, we don’t have drones” Petro Poroshenko told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro Tuesday.

“This war is not only about Ukraine … this is investment in European security,” he said.

Poroshenko thanked Ukraine’s Western allies for their military aid but said more was needed to prevent Russia from continuing its aggression toward Ukraine.

“The biggest military power is the U.S. and my appeal [to them] is to please demonstrate your leadership … without you, Putin would be stronger, Putin would go further, because the only language Putin understands is the language of strength. Every single hour of delay [in the supply of] artillery shells means human lives, and the lives of our civilians [are lost] this is too high a price,” he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

French President Emmanuel Macron waits for guest arrivals for a conference in support of Ukraine with European leaders and government representatives on February 26, 2024 in Paris, France. 

Chesnot | Getty Images News | Getty Images

France’s suggestion that Ukraine’s allies could potentially send ground troops into Ukraine has caused indignation and outrage in Russia, with officials warning it could provoke a direct conflict between Russia and NATO member states.

Eyebrows were raised Monday when French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that European heads of state and Western officials, who met in Paris on Monday, had talked about the possibility of sending ground troops into Ukraine.

“There is no consensus today to officially, openly, and with endorsement, send troops on the ground. But in terms of dynamics, nothing should be ruled out. We will do everything necessary to ensure that Russia cannot win this war,” Macron said at a news conference Monday evening.

Moscow was quick to seize on the comments, with the Kremlin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, telling reporters Tuesday that if European NATO members sent troops to fight in Ukraine it would make a conflict between Russia and NATO inevitable.

Read more here: NATO countries scramble to deny ground troops will go into Ukraine after Moscow warns of ‘inevitable’ conflict

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting ahead of the 2nd anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., February 23, 2024. 

Mike Segar | Reuters

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne on Tuesday said French troops could take on non-combat roles rather than active battle in Ukraine.

The comments come after French President Emmanuel Macron indicated that Western leaders had discussed sending ground troops to Ukraine, which was quickly played down by allies.

“We must consider new actions to support Ukraine. These must respond to very specific needs, I am thinking in particular of mine clearance, cyberdefence, the production of weapons on site, on Ukrainian territory,” he told lawmakers, Reuters reported.

“Some of its actions could require a presence on Ukrainian territory, without crossing the threshold of fighting. Nothing should be ruled out. This was and still is the position today of the president of the Republic,” he said.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during ‘Ukraine. Year 2024’ conference, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 25, 2024.

Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he said in a post on social media platform X.

Zelenskyy said they discussed the so-called “peace formula,” a ten-point plan set out by Ukraine to end the war with Russia, and Saudi Arabia’s support in this.

“Last year in Jeddah, we held an effective advisors’ meeting to discuss its implementation. We are now nearing the first Peace Summit and rely on Saudi Arabia’s ongoing active support,” he said.

Prisoners of war were also discussed, Zelenskyy said, pointing to Saudi Arabia’s previous involvement in prisoner exchanges.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Russia’s defense ministry said its forces had captured another settlement near Avdiivka, the industrial city it seized several weeks ago in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.

Posting on Telegram, Russia’s defense ministry said troops within its central units had “liberated the village of Severnoye, occupied more advantageous lines and positions, and also defeated concentrations of manpower and equipment” of several Ukrainian brigades in Donetsk.

Ukrainian soldiers fire the L119 artillery as the war’s second anniversary nears in the direction of Marinka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on February 23, 2024. 

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu | Getty Images

Ukraine conceded that its units had withdrawn “from the small settlements of Severne and Stepove,” emphasizing their small size by noting that before the war, the villages had less than a hundred inhabitants each.

The latest territorial gain comes after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the Donetsk industrial city of Avdiivka in mid-February, marking a significant loss for Ukraine. Its military said it had withdrawn their outgunned units in order to prevent them from being surrounded.

After Avdiicka, Russian forces have been looking to build on gains in a westward direction and have captured several settlements in the last week; on Monday, Ukraine confirmed its forces had withdrawn from the village of Lastochkyne.

Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday that Ukraine’s forces had tried to mount counterattacks “in the areas of the settlements of Novgorodskoye, Pervomaiskoye and Petrovskoye of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” the name pro-Russian separatists gave to Donetsk, but that these had been repelled.

Russia claimed Ukraine had lost up to 485 military personnel, two tanks, including U.S.-made Abrams, three infantry fighting vehicles, including a Bradley, six armored combat vehicles, 13 vehicles, and two D-30 howitzers, in the process. CNBC was unable to verify the battlefield claims.

— Holly Ellyatt

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as he arrives to attend a conference in support of Ukraine with European leaders and government representatives on February 26, 2024 in Paris, France. 

Chesnot | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Berlin has dismissed the notion of sending ground troops to Ukraine, a day after France’s president suggested that some of Ukraine’s allies had not “ruled out” this possibility.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday rejected the idea, saying that there was no consensus over deploying ground troops among European leaders and officials from the U.K., Canada and U.S., who had met in Paris on Monday.

“Once again, in a very good debate, it was discussed that what was agreed from the outset among ourselves and with each other also applies to the future, namely that there will be no ground troops, no soldiers on Ukrainian soil sent there by European countries or NATO states,” Scholz said on the sidelines of an event, according to comments carried by Reuters.

Scholz reportedly added that European leaders now appeared more willing to procure weapons from third countries outside Europe, in order to accelerate military aid to Ukraine.

Germany is one of Ukraine’s biggest supporters in Europe, but it has been wary of escalating tensions with Russia, deliberating at length over whether to supply Ukraine with Leopard tanks and long-range Taurus missiles.

French President Emmanuel Macron raised eyebrows on Monday, when he suggested that “nothing should be ruled out” when it came to the prospect of “troops on the ground” in Ukraine. He further said that “we will do everything necessary to ensure that Russia cannot win this war,” but did not give any details on which countries might support the idea of sending ground troops into Ukraine.

Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck also commented with “advice” for France, saying that Paris would be more helpful by sending weaponry and tanks to Ukraine, Reuters reported. He likewise said that there would be “no German soldiers on Ukrainian soil.”

The Kremlin warned on Tuesday that conflict between Russia and NATO would become inevitable, if members of the military coalition send troops to fight in Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends an expanded meeting of the Defence Ministry Board at the National Defence Control Centre in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2023. 

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed Tuesday that Ukraine had lost 444,000 servicemen since the start of the war, or Russia’s “special military operation, as it describes its invasion of Ukraine.

“As a result of the decisive and active actions of our military personnel, the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces is decreasing. On average, since the beginning of the year, the enemy has been losing more than 800 personnel and 120 units of various weapons, including foreign-made ones, every day,” Shoigu claimed Tuesday in a speech made to the defense ministry, according to a NBC translation of his comments.

In total, during the operation, the Ukrainian armed forces had lost over 444,000 military personnel, he said, without presenting evidence to back up his comment.

“After the collapse of the counteroffensive, the military command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is trying to use the remaining reserves to stabilize the situation and prevent the collapse of the front,” Shoigu added.

Ukraine is certainly experiencing some setbacks on the battlefield, with the recent loss of Avdiivka and several other settlements to Russian forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, in the last week. Russia’s claims that Ukraine has lost over 444,000 personnel is wildly above Ukraine’s admission last weekend that it had lost 31,000 troops in the war so far.

“31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in this war. Not 300,000 or 150,000, or whatever Putin and his lying circle are saying. But each of these losses is a great loss for us,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a news conference Sunday.

Russia has been tight-lipped about its own losses since the start of the war although 315,000 Russians are estimated to have been killed or wounded, U.S. defense officials believe.
Ukraine’s military said last weekend that over 411,000 Russian personnel had been killed in the war.

Both Russia and Ukraine tend to exaggerate the losses they’ve inflicted upon each other and accurate figures are not likely to be achieved given the imprecise collection of data during the war.

— Holly Ellyatt

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