The Kremlin said Monday talks between negotiators from Moscow and Kyiv have so far made no major breakthroughs on the conflict in Ukraine as the delegations prepare for a new round of talks in Istanbul.
“So far we cannot state any significant achievements or breakthroughs,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during his daily press briefing.
“For now we cannot and will not speak of progress,” Peskov added.
He said, however, that it was “important” that it had been decided to continue the talks in person.
The Kremlin on Friday said President Vladimir Putin was ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks with Ukraine, as Russian forces approached Kyiv on the second day of Moscow’s invasion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian leader was “ready” to send a high-level delegation “for talks with a Ukrainian delegation” to Belarusian capital Minsk, which has previously hosted rounds of peace talks over the Ukraine crisis.
He said Putin’s ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, told him that he would “create the conditions” for such a summit.
Russia has thousands of troops stationed in Belarus, and Ukraine said it was being attacked from several sides — including from Belarus.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had repeatedly called for talks with the Russian leader during a weeks-long diplomatic push in which Western countries tried to deter Putin from launching an attack.
Hours before Putin announced he was sending troops to Ukraine, Zelensky said he tried to call the Kremlin chief but “there was no answer, only silence”.
As Russian troops closed in on Kyiv on Friday, Zelensky issued a new statement urging talks.
“I would like to address the President of the Russian Federation once again. Fighting is going on all over Ukraine. Let’s sit down at the negotiating table to stop the deaths of people,” he said.
Putin announced the start of a military operation against Ukraine in the hourly hours of Thursday when Moscow was asleep.
He did so after recognising two pro-Moscow separatist republics in eastern Ukraine as independent.
The West has imposed a barrage of international sanctions on Moscow in response, but Ukraine has said it should do more.
France described an address to the nation by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine as “paranoid” on Monday, accusing him of breaking promises made to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
Putin’s speech, in which he recognised as independent two Ukrainian separatist regions, mixed “rigid and paranoid” ideas”, a French presidential official said, adding the Russian leader had “not respected promises made” to Macron.
The official, who asked not to be named, said further Russian “military actions” were not to be ruled out and added the EU was preparing a list of Russian entities and individuals to sanction in a “proportionate” response.
Putin had “made a clear choice to break his commitments,” said the official, adding that discussions would begin on Tuesday in Brussels on drawing up the sanctions.
In an earlier statement, Macron had condemned Putin’s move and called for targeted European sanctions against Russia.
Macron had engaged in frenetic diplomacy on Sunday in a bid to broker a summit between Putin and US President Joe Biden to ease the soaring tensions over Ukraine which have raised fears of a Russian invasion of its neighbour.
But the idea so far has only met with a lukewarm response from the Kremlin and the future of such diplomatic initiatives remains unclear.
President Vladimir Putin will be vaccinated in private on Tuesday evening, the Kremlin said, as Russia looks to boost a vaccination campaign that is faltering despite having produced three home-grown jabs.
Putin announced a day earlier that he would be vaccinated on Tuesday, joining other world leaders who have received jabs including US President Joe Biden, Pope Francis, and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
But unlike many others who were vaccinated in public — Biden was shown on TV being given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while Ukraine’s Volodomyr Zelensky even took off his shirt for the jab — Putin will do so behind closed doors.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the 68-year-old Russian leader, who has never been media-shy during his two decades in power, does not want to get a jab in front of the cameras.
“We will not show this, you will have to take our word for it,” Peskov told reporters.
“As for being vaccinated in front of the cameras, he does not like it.”
Peskov said the Kremlin chief would receive one of three Russian vaccines, declining to specify which one “on purpose”.
“All three Russian vaccines proved their effectiveness and reliability,” Peskov said.
Russia has developed three vaccines — Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac, though most of the attention has focused on Sputnik, named after the first satellite launched into space by the Soviet Union.
Russia’s vaccination campaign has been slower than in many countries but Peskov said Putin did not have to get vaccinated in public to encourage more Russians to get jabs.
“The president is doing a lot to promote vaccines as is,” Peskov said.
Only about four million of the country’s 144 million people have so far received two doses of a vaccine, while another two million have had the first dose.
Vaccine scepticism runs high in Russia, with a recent opinion poll showing less than a third willing to have a jab, and close to two-thirds saying they believe the coronavirus is a man-made biological weapon.
The country has been among the hardest hit by Covid-19, with more than 4.4 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 95,000 deaths.
A Moscow court on Saturday upheld a ruling to jail the Kremlin’s most prominent opponent Alexei Navalny, sealing his first lengthy prison sentence in a decade of legal battles with Russian authorities.
Judge Dmitry Balashov dismissed Navalny’s appeal against a recent decision to imprison him for violating the terms of a suspended sentence on embezzlement charges.
The anti-corruption campaigner was ordered on February 2 to serve the time in a penal colony for breaching parole terms while in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.
Navalny appeared in court Saturday inside a glass cage for defendants, wearing a plaid shirt, smiling, waving and flashing the V for victory symbol.
In a closing address that referenced the Bible and Harry Potter, Navalny said he had no doubts about his decision to return to Russia.
“The Bible says: ‘Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,'” he told the court.
“I have no regrets that I am back… I am satisfied that in a difficult moment I did not break this commandment.”
Quoting from a character in Harry Potter, he said it was “important not to feel alone” because that was what the series’ villain Voldemort wanted.
He described the legal process to jail him as “absurd” and called on Russians to take action to make the country a better place.
“Russia should be not only free, but also happy,” Navalny said.
Prosecutors lashed out at Navalny, saying he acted as if he was above the law and had “an exclusive right to do as he pleases”.
The judge on Saturday decided to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just over two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.
The ruling to sideline one of the most prominent players in Russian political life came just hours before Navalny was due in court again.
Prosecutors in a separate trial have called for him to be fined the equivalent of $13,000 for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” on Twitter last year, with a verdict also expected Saturday.
They also asked for Navalny to be jailed on the same 2014 fraud conviction because the tweet was posted while he was serving the suspended sentence.
Supporters of the outspoken opposition figure say the cases against the 44-year-old are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.
– Western pressure for release –
The 94-year-old veteran at the centre of the defamation trial appeared in a video that Navalny derided for promoting constitutional reforms, passed last year, that could allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.
A series of theatrical hearings in the case ended Tuesday with Navalny asking if the judge could recommend a recipe for pickles, since it is “pointless to talk about the law” with her.
Russia has come under increasing Western pressure to release Navalny since he was detained on arrival at a Moscow airport in January.
He had spent months recovering in Germany from the attack with Novichok that he blames on the Kremlin. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement.
The arrest sparked large protests across the country that saw more than 10,000 people detained, while the European Union threatened to impose new sanctions on Moscow.
Europe’s rights court ruled this week that Russia must immediately release Navalny, a motion swiftly brushed aside by the justice ministry.
Navalny’s jailing has exacerbated a crisis in Moscow’s ties with the West that began with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
EU foreign ministers, who are considering fresh sanctions, are due to meet with two top Navalny aides in Brussels on Sunday.
The Kremlin on Sunday accused the United States of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs and downplayed the scale of the weekend’s protests, when tens of thousands rallied in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
More than 3,500 demonstrators were detained in protests across the country on Saturday, with several injured in clashes with police in Moscow, following Navalny’s call to rally against President Vladimir Putin’s 20-year rule.
The West has widely condemned the “harsh tactics” used against demonstrators, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying Sunday the mass arrest of protesters was “an intolerable affront” and a “slide towards authoritarianism”.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said the bloc would discuss “next steps” on Monday.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Sunday accused the US embassy of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs after the mission distributed a “demonstration alert” to US citizens in Russia recommending they avoid protests.
“Of course, these publications are inappropriate,” Peskov told a state TV channel. “And of course indirectly, they are absolutely an interference in our domestic affairs.”
A US mission spokeswoman said US embassies and consulates around the world routinely issue safety messages to US citizens.
“This is a common, routine practice of many countries’ diplomatic missions,” she told AFP on Sunday.
The US embassy in Moscow on Saturday said that Washington supported “the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression”.
– Protests in over 100 cities – Peskov also accused protest organisers of seeking to “rock the boat” and said the number of people who had demonstrated paled in comparison to Putin supporters.
“A lot of people vote for Putin,” Peskov said, pointing to last year’s constitutional plebiscite that allowed 68-year-old Putin to remain in power until 2036.
Navalny, Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested on returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany for a near-fatal poisoning with a Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent.
He then called for Saturday’s unauthorised protests, which took on an unprecedented geographic scale, spanning more than 100 cities.
Around 20,000 people protested in Moscow and more than 10,000 in Saint Petersburg, according to estimates from AFP journalists, with rallies also held in numerous countries including France and Lithuania.
Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s regional network, praised the turnout.
“I am certainly proud, very impressed and inspired,” Volkov told AFP. Navalny’s team is hoping to stage another rally next weekend.
Many at the protests said they were angered by the findings of a Navalny investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The two-hour report, which claims that Putin owns “the world’s most expensive palace” allegedly financed through a massive corruption scheme, has been viewed nearly 80 million times on YouTube.
Peskov said the luxury mansion on the Black Sea was “private” property and had nothing to do with Putin.
– Protester in intensive care – Moscow officials said that 29 people received medical assistance in hospitals and were released.
Saint Petersburg prosecutors said they were probing violations on “the part of law enforcement” and the use of force against a woman.
The statement was released after local media published a video showing a middle-aged woman falling to the ground after being kicked by riot police.
In the video, a woman — identified as Margarita Yudina — is seen asking three policemen in full riot gear why they were detaining a young unarmed protester. One of the policeman then kicks her in the stomach.
Yudina was hospitalised in a “serious condition” with a head injury before being released on Sunday evening, local health committee spokeswoman Olga Riabinina told AFP.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said it had launched criminal inquiries in Moscow over the use of violence against law enforcement, hooliganism and property damage.
In a separate statement, investigators said a 36-year-old man was detained after hitting two policemen at the Saint Petersburg protest.
The OVD Info monitor said police seized at least 3,521 protesters, with 1,398 people detained in Moscow and 526 in Saint Petersburg.
The head of the Kremlin’s human rights council, Valery Fadeyev, said most of those detained in Moscow had been released.
He also defended the detentions, saying the protests were illegal and took place during a coronavirus pandemic. “I see no violations whatsoever,” he said.
Navalny, who rose to prominence a decade ago, accuses the FSB security agency of seeking to poison him on Putin’s orders.
He is the target of several criminal probes and supporters fear authorities are planning to sentence him to a long prison term.
The Kremlin on Tuesday dismissed Western demands to release Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying his calls for mass protests over his arrest were “troubling”.
Legal pressure is ramping up against President Vladimir Putin’s best-known domestic critic, who is due in court on defamation charges on Wednesday, as his allies in Russia call for protests in Moscow this weekend.
Navalny, 44, was arrested on Sunday as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since he recovered from a near-fatal poisoning with the Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent in August.
Russia’s prison service said it had detained the opposition politician for violating the terms of a suspended sentence he was given in 2014 on fraud charges he says were politically motivated.
A hastily organised court on Monday ordered Navalny jailed for 30 days, prompting his associates to call on Russians to take to the streets in central Moscow and march towards the Kremlin on Saturday.
Demonstrations in Moscow have been banned due to coronavirus restrictions, but Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov said Tuesday the organisers would not seek formal permission from authorities to stage the rally.
Volkov told AFP the prospect that the unauthorised rally could result in detentions for Navalny’s supporters would not deter them, pointing to what he said were multiplying attacks on the opposition.
“Putin poisoned Navalny and Navalny is now behind bars,” he said.
Navalny accuses Putin of ordering his poisoning, a claim the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
– ‘Domestic affair’ –
The Kremlin said the calls to protest were “troubling” and stressed it would not take into account Western demands to free Navalny.
“This is absolutely a domestic affair and we will not allow anyone to interfere in it,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The anti-corruption campaigner’s arrest has triggered a wave of condemnation from Western countries which have called for his immediate release.
After an impromptu hearing on Monday at a makeshift court set up in a police station on the outskirts of Moscow, officers moved Navalny to Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina jail, one of the country’s best-guarded detention centres.
“Take to the streets — not for me, but for you,” Navalny said in a video released after the hearing.
The last time mass protests took place in Moscow was in the summer of 2019 when Navalny’s allies and a host of other opposition politicians were barred from balloting in local elections.
The leading Kremlin critic has repeatedly led large-scale street protests against Putin, including in 2011-2012 when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest widespread claims of electoral fraud in parliamentary elections.
– ‘Monumental escalation’ –
But analysts were hard-pressed to predict a potential turnout at the Saturday demonstration, pointing to the pandemic and an increasing crackdown on Kremlin critics.
Nonetheless political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said she expected protracted opposition protests.
“Perhaps not overly impressive in terms of scale, but they’ll be conspicuous and won’t peter out quickly,” she wrote on her Telegram channel.
“We’re on the cusp of a monumental escalation of tensions.”
The prison service said it had detained Navalny for not checking in with officials twice per month during a probationary period resulting from the 2014 suspended sentence.
A court hearing is scheduled to take place on February 2 on whether he will see real prison time for the sentence of three years and six months.
Navalny was also due in court Wednesday on separate charges of defaming a World War II veteran.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, opened a probe into Navalny for libel in June for “discrediting the honour and dignity” of the veteran.
The WWI veteran had spoken out in a promotional video in favour of constitutional amendments passed last summer that allow Putin to remain in office until 2036.
Navalny posted the video on Twitter, calling the veteran and others featured in it “the shame of the country,” “people without a conscience” and “traitors”.
The probe had been suspended while Navalny was hospitalised in Germany, after he was flown to Berlin in a coma in August.
Libel charges in Russia are punishable by up to five million rubles ($67,650) in fines and five years in prison.
Navalny and his supporters say the case is politically motivated.
The Kremlin said Friday it regretted a decision to ban Russia from international sport for two years but stressed the importance for the country’s athletes to participate in international competitions as neutrals.
On Thursday, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport cut the initial four-year ban imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and allowed selected athletes to participate as neutrals.
The shortened ban imposed by CAS runs until December 16, 2022, encompassing the Tokyo Olympics, Beijing Winter Games and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Friday that the Kremlin “regrets” the decision and “treats it negatively”.
But at the same time, he said it was “extremely important” that Russian athletes would take part in international competitions to uphold their qualifications and physical shape.
Peskov said that Russia would continue the “fight against doping”.
Government representatives including President Vladimir Putin have been barred from major international competitions, but they may still attend if invited by the host country’s head of state, CAS has said.
Peskov did not comment on the ban against Putin.
Russia has been roiled by the doping saga for the past four years after the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov blew the whistle over state-backed doping at the country’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
CAS has eased measures announced last year by WADA which called for Russia to be excluded from international sport for four years after a whistleblower report revealed state-backed cheating during the country’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The Kremlin on Tuesday expressed “concern” over a US anti-doping bill that grants US officials the power to prosecute individuals responsible for doping conspiracies.
The legislation — called the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act — received formal approval in the US Senate on Monday.
The bill “, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
“We are highly critical of any attempts by the United State to spread its jurisdiction to other countries,” Peskov added.
The Rodchenkov Act is named after whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, who set in motion the Russia doping scandal in 2016.
Rodchenkov was heavily involved in a state-backed conspiracy designed to cover up Russia’s cheating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and now lives in hiding in the United States.
The bill now requires a signature from the US president before it becomes law.
Unlike the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which can sanction athletes, the “Rodchenkov” Act targets the entourage of athletes — coaches, agents, managers — and can lead to fines of up to $1 million or a prison term of up to 10 years.
A WADA spokesman on Monday expressed concern that similar bills could emerge in other countries for political reasons, for example targeting athletes from specific nations in retaliation.
The global anti-doping watchdog also suggested that the law may deter whistleblowers from coming forward if there is risk they could be persecuted.
United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief executive Travis Tygart has insisted that the legislation offers greater protection for both clean athletes and whistleblowers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is waiting for official results from the US presidential election before congratulating a winner, the Kremlin said on Monday.
“We consider it correct to wait for the official results to be finalised. I want to remind you that President Putin repeatedly said he will respect the choice of the American people,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Many world leaders congratulated President-elect Joe Biden after he took an insurmountable lead over Donald Trump in the vote count.
When Trump won the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, Putin congratulated him within roughly an hour.
Peskov said that this election was different because of the legal challenges that Trump, who has refused to concede defeat, is planning to mount over the vote.
“The difference is quite obvious… then there were no announcements of legal challenges,” Peskov said.
He added that Moscow was ready to work with whoever is declared the winner of the US vote.
“We hope that with the next president of the United States it will be possible to re-establish a dialogue and together agree on ways to normalise our bilateral relations,” he said.
Russia was accused of interfering in the 2016 election to help get Trump elected, in the hope he would take a softer line with Moscow.
Biden is expected to take a tougher stand and during the campaign slammed Trump for having “embraced so many autocrats around the world, starting with Vladimir Putin”
The Kremlin on Monday warned against a hasty reaction to the drone strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that Washington has blamed on Iran.
“We call on all countries to avoid hasty steps or conclusions that could exacerbate the situation, and on the contrary keep to a line of conduct that will help soften the impact of the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“This is a very unpleasant story,” Peskov added.
“We are hoping that Saudi Arabia will be able to cope with the inflicted damage in the nearest future,” he told reporters.
Peskov added that Putin planned to visit Saudi Arabia in October.
On Saturday, drone strikes on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia severely disrupted production.
Tehran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, have claimed responsibility.
On Monday, oil prices made their biggest jump since the Gulf War after President Donald Trump warned that the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attacks on the Saudi oil infrastructure.
The Kremlin on Monday said the arrest of a major US investor on fraud charges should “not affect the investment climate” in Russia.
A Moscow court at the weekend placed Michael Calvey, founder of the multi-billion-dollar investment fund Baring Vostok Capital Partners (BVCP), in custody until at least April 13.
Calvey and five others are awaiting trial on charges they embezzled 2.5 billion rubles ($37.7 million). He says the charges have been fabricated for use in a shareholder battle.
“We are very closely following developments in the situation and we hope that this will not at all affect — and should not affect — the investment climate,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Of course, we have been well aware of Michael’s investment activities in the Russian market over many years,” Peskov told journalists, declining to comment on the specifics of the case.
Authorities detained four Baring Vostok employees on Friday, including French national Phillipe Delpal.
Two other suspects include a former fund employee and someone at another firm mentioned in the probe. All six are now under pre-trial arrest.
In a statement Saturday, Baring Vostok said the claims made against its employees “have no merit”.
The case has drawn comparisons to other high-profile probes against foreign investors in Russia, notably one against Bill Browder and the Hermitage Capital fund.
Calvey argued in court that the probe is a bid to exert pressure on him amid a shareholder conflict within Vostochniy Bank, which he is trying to resolve in a London arbitration court.
The charges against him are intended to “pressure Baring Vostok to drop its arbitration claims in London or to obstruct the new share emission of Vostochniy Bank,” the Baring Vostok statement said.
Investigators say that in 2017 a firm controlled by Calvey owed 2.5 billion rubles to Vostochniy Bank and paid the debt with a 59.9 percent stake in the Luxembourg company International Financial Technology Group (IFTG), which was valued at three billion rubles.
The investigators allege that IFTG’s real value was only 600,000 rubles.