Russia Hands Suspended Jail Term To Anti-Putin Student Blogger

Russian student and blogger Yegor Zhukov gestures outside Moscow’s Kuntsevsky district court after getting his suspended sentence on December 6, 2019. Russia on December 6, 2019 handed an unusually lenient suspended sentence to a student convicted of making calls to extremism on a video blog condemning President Vladimir Putin’s regime. PHOTO: Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Russia on Friday handed an unusually lenient suspended sentence to a student convicted of making calls to extremism on a video blog condemning President Vladimir Putin.

Yegor Zhukov, a 21-year-old student at Moscow’s prestigious Higher School of Economics, was arrested in the summer over participation in anti-Putin street protests but then was charged over his YouTube videos, which have had hundreds of thousands of views.

A large number of supporters including fellow students and teachers at the university as well as one of Russia’s most famous rapper, Oxxxymiron, have called for the release of the student supporter of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Hundreds of Zhukov’s supporters stood outside the court during the sentencing chanted: “A suspended sentence is still a sentence!” and “Acquit him!”

Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence for Zhukov, making the ruling by judge Svetlana Ukhnaleva exceptionally mild.

Young Russians have been jailed for up to four years for participating in a July street protest in Moscow against Putin.

But Zhukov’s lawyer Murad Musayev told journalists in court: “This cannot be seen as a complete victory because the guy is innocent.”

Zhukov emerged from court and raised a hand in triumph as the crowd shouted “Yegor!” Police had to close one lane of a nearby road due to the size of the crowd.

“This isn’t complete victory all the same, although I’m very glad to be free,” he said.

“This is all politics. They have turned courts into a repressive institution. We must fight this,” he said, thanking supporters for highlighting his case.

“The fact that I’m here and this is happening is all thanks to you,” he said.

“This shows that attracting attention to such things really works,” said rapper Oxxxymiron.

A suspended sentence will allow Zhukov to continue his studies while checking in regularly with police.

The son of a former cosmonaut-in-training, Zhukov has won praise for his eloquence and Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper published his final statements in court, made on Wednesday, in full.

In his speech, he argued that Russian authorities deliberately crush any initiative and create a society where no one is prepared to take any responsibility.

“I’m glad I got this chance to go through an ordeal in the name of values that are dear to me,” he said.

In another unusually mild verdict on Friday, Pavel Novikov, 32, accused of hitting a policeman with a bottle of water at a July protest, was released and fined 120,000 rubles ($1,883) after prosecutors asked for a three-year jail term, Mediazona website reported.

AFP

Russia’s Waste Crisis Worries Putin

President Vladimir Putin  AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia needed to improve its waste management after stinking and dangerous landfills sparked a national protest movement.

“We haven’t addressed the so-called waste problems for a century, that is to say, never,” Putin said during an annual speech setting out the Kremlin’s policy priorities.

“We must form a civilised and safe waste-management system,” he said, adding that simply hiking utility fees would fail to address the underlying issue.

Russia has seen a wave of protests over the last year against the storage of Moscow’s garbage in the provinces, after landfills around the capital filled up and began catching fire.

READ ALSO: Three MPs Quit UK’s Governing Party Over Brexit

This month rallies took place under a national slogan “Russia is not a dump” in 20 to 30 cities, according to reports, the largest of which attracted around 2,000 people in the northern city of Arkhangelsk.

Putin promised in his speech to “close or re-cultivate” all non-functioning dumps over the next six years.

He also said he wanted the percentage of recycled waste to rise from the current eight percent to 60 percent, “to avoid accumulating new millions of tonnes of trash”.

Most Russian cities have no municipal recycling programmes, despite polls in recent years showing that a considerable share of the population is ready to sort their rubbish.

According to Greenpeace Russia, less than 15 percent of Russians in large cities have access to recycling facilities.

Russians have protested the building of new waste incineration plants, as well as a new fee for waste removal introduced into monthly utility bills this year.

AFP

Dangote’s Worth Drops By 32%

Dangote's Worth Drops By 32%Nigerian born Africa’s richest man, Mr Aliko Dangote, has lost 32% of his wealth.

Bloomberg reports that the president of the Dangote Group, lost 4.9 billion dollars in June, representing one-third of his wealth.

The decline resulted from the effect of falling oil prices and the devaluation of the naira, dragging the magnate’s ranking to 112 on world’s billionaires’ list.

With a total value of 10.4 billion dollars, Mr Dangote was the world’s 46th-richest person as at June 2016.

Aliko Dangote was also recently named as the second most powerful person on the African continent.

In the latest edition of its 74 world most powerful people, Forbes Magazine named billionaire Dangote along with 70 others including Russian President, Vladimir Putin; US President-Elect, Donald Trump; and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Mr Dangote is listed as number 71 ahead of Trump, and the 68th most powerful in the world for this year.

The business mogul has constantly featured on the list since 2013 when he was listed as the only black African among 100 most powerful persons on the planet.

As of 2013, Dangote was the only African listed among the most powerful people in the world before the Egyptian president, Abdel El-Sisi recently featured on the list.

Lavrov, Steinmeier To Meet On Ukraine, Syria Crisis

Sergei-Lavrov-Frank-Walter-Steinmeier-Germany-RussiaThe foreign ministers of Russia and Germany, Sergei Lavrov and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, are set to meet on Monday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the duo would discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria in the course of their meeting expected to take place in Yekaterinburg.

President Vladimir Putin had accused Ukraine of sabotage plans in Crimea, the peninsula Russia captured from Ukraine in 2014.

Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, had also discussed the Syrian conflict with Mr Putin during his visit to Russia earlier this week.

Syria Conflict: US, Russia Meet

john kerry and Sergei Lavrov on syria conflictAs the West seeks to find a solution to the crisis in Syria, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry has arrived in Moscow for talks to try to bridge gaps with Russia.

He is due to have meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

The US and Russia have long disagreed on what role Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad should play in the process.

The US wants Mr Assad to stand down but the Kremlin believes that decision lies with the Syrian people.

As the meeting with Mr Lavrov began, Mr Kerry said: “The world benefits when powerful nations can find common ground and I hope today, we can find some common ground.”

On Islamic State, he said Russia and the US both agreed it was “a threat to every country, these are the worst of terrorists, they leave no choice but for civilised nations to join together and push them back and destroy them”.

Mr Kerry will try to prepare the ground for an international meeting on Syria mooted for later this week. Mr Lavrov said the Islamic State (ISIS) issue was not limited to Syria, as the group was also active in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

He also said that the meeting would cover the matter of Ukraine, with its continued division between the Western-backed government in Kiev and the Russian-backed separatists in its East.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes targeting ISIS positions in Syria, but the US accuses Russia of bombing moderate rebels.

Turkey-Russia Jet Downing: Moscow Beefs Up Defences In Syria

Turkey-Russia Jet Downing: Moscow Beefs Up Defences In SyriaAs the Russia-Turkey row intensifies, Moscow has strengthened its anti-aircraft defences in Syria by moving a cruiser towards the coast and deploying new missiles at its main base.

The Moskva cruiser’s long-range air defence system will provide cover for Russian aircraft as well as the s-400 missiles which arrived on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the row over Turkey’s downing of a Russian combat jet on Tuesday rages on.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had warned Russia not to ‘play with fire’ with its operations in Syria.

In return, Russia suspended its visa-free arrangement with Turkey and is planning to introduce a wide range of economic sanctions. President Vladimir Putin, however, said that he wants an apology from Turkey before he would speak to Mr Erdogan.

Moscow rejected Turkey’s assertion that its SU-24 fighter jet had flown into Turkish air space for 17 seconds after ignoring repeated warnings to change course.

A senior Russian commander said the jet had been ‘ambushed’ by two Turkish F-16s patrolling the area for more than an hour beforehand.

He said Russian and Syrian radar data proved that a Turkish jet had fired a missile from 2km (1.2 miles) inside Syria. Turkey did not respond to the allegation.

Turkey, which is a member of Nato and of a US-led coalition in the region, insists Mr Assad must step down before any political solution to the Syrian conflict is found.

Both countries said that they are trying to rid the region of the Islamic State (ISIS) group, which claimed the recent attacks on Paris and also on a Russian airliner.

Syria Crisis: US Condemns Moscow Welcome For Assad

Syria Crisis: US Condemns Moscow Welcome For AssadTwo days after the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, secretly visited Russia to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin, the White House has strongly condemned Russia for putting on a “red carpet welcome”.

The Syrian leader’s trip on Tuesday came three weeks after Russia began air strikes in Syria against Islamic State militants and other forces.

It was Mr Assad’s first overseas trip since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.

The conflict has claimed more than a quarter of a million lives.

During his visit, Mr Assad said that Russia’s involvement had stopped the spread of “terrorism” becoming “more widespread and harmful”.

For his part, Mr Putin said the Syrian people had been “almost alone; resisting, fighting international terrorism for several years”.

The visit was not announced until Wednesday after Mr Assad had returned to Damascus.

Putin Defends Russia’s Air Strikes In Syria

Russia-putinPresident Vladimir Putin has defended Russia’s military interventions in Syria, saying it would aid efforts to reach a political settlement and stabilise the “legitimate authority” of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

Putin denied that Russian air strikes were hitting moderate opposition groups rather than Islamic State (IS) militants.

Syrian forces have made significant advances against rebels.

Government gains in Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces were also reported both by Damascus and opposition activists.

The main battlefront is currently close to the key highway that links the capital with other major cities, including Aleppo, and Mr Assad’s forces are believed to be seeking to cut off rebels in Idlib.

Putin believes that without Moscow’s support for President Assad, there was a danger that “terrorist groups” could overrun Syria.

Congress Probing U.S. Spy Agencies’ Possible Lapses On Russia

free syriaSenior U.S. lawmakers have begun probing possible intelligence lapses over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, concerned that American spy agencies were slow to grasp the scope and intention of Russia’s dramatic military offensive there, U.S. congressional sources and other officials told Reuters.

A week after Russia plunged directly into Syria’s civil war by launching a campaign of air strikes, the intelligence committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives want to examine the extent to which the spy community overlooked or misjudged critical warning signs, the sources said.

Findings of major blind spots would mark the latest of several U.S. intelligence misses in recent years, including Moscow’s surprise takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year and China’s rapid expansion of island-building activities in the South China Sea.

Though spy agencies have sought to ramp up intelligence gathering on Russia since the crisis over Ukraine, they continue to struggle with inadequate resources because of the emphasis on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, according to current and former U.S. officials.

A senior administration official, who also asked not to be identified, insisted that there were “no surprises” and that policymakers were “comfortable” with the intelligence they received in the lead-up to the Russian offensive.

Spy agencies had carefully tracked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s build-up of military assets and personnel in Syria in recent weeks, prompting White House criticism and demands for Moscow to explain itself.

But intelligence officers – and the U.S. administration they serve – were caught mostly off-guard by the speed and aggressiveness of Putin’s use of air power as well as a Russian target list that included U.S.-backed rebels, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“They saw some of this going on but didn’t appreciate the magnitude,” one of the sources told Reuters.

Russia’s sudden move to ramp up its military involvement in the Syria crisis has thrown Obama’s Middle East strategy into doubt and laid bare an erosion of U.S. influence in the region.

A shortage of reliable information and analysis could further hamper President Barack Obama’s efforts to craft a response on Syria to regain the initiative from Washington’s former Cold War foe.

Russia Stages Massive WW2 Parade Despite Western Boycott

RussiaAs the whole of Europe continues to mark 70 years since the end of World War Two, Russia is staging its biggest military parade to celebrate the anniversary.

Thousands of troops are marching on Red Square in Moscow, and new armour being displayed for the first time.

Many world leaders are boycotting the event because of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis but more than 20 Heads of States are in Moscow.

Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is attending the event in a sign of closer ties as a column of Chinese troops also took part in the parade.

Dignitaries from India, former Soviet republics and communist-era allies such as Cuba, also attended.

United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was also among those watching.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, U.S. President, Barack Obama and the French and British leaders, all skipped the parade, but will attend a wreath-laying ceremony in Moscow on Sunday.

As the event began, President Vladimir Putin said international co-operation had been put at risk in recent years.

Russia denies claims by the West that it is arming rebels in eastern Ukraine.

More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Ukraine Crisis: EU Leaders Set For Putin Talks

ukraineFrench President, Francois Hollande and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel announced a new peace plan for Ukraine on Thursday, flying to Kiev with a proposal they would then take on to Moscow.

The coordinated trip by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande comes as rebels advanced on a railway hub held by Ukrainian troops after launching an offensive that scuppered a five-month-old ceasefire.

It comes as civilians in the key town of Debaltseve are being forced to hide underground as Ukrainian forces tried to hold out against rebel attacks.

Moscow is accused of arming pro-Russian separatists – a claim it denies.

Russia also rejects claims by Ukraine and the West that its regular troops are fighting alongside the rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Clashes had left nearly 5,400 people dead since April.

Ukraine is also set to dominate an annual multilateral security conference in Munich and meetings between US Vice-President, Joe Biden and top EU officials in Brussels.

The importance of reaching a deal was demonstrated by a dramatic collapse in Ukraine’s hryvnia currency, which lost nearly a third of its value after the central bank halted daily auctions at which it sold hard currency to banks.

Moscow said it hoped talks with Merkel and Hollande would be “constructive”.

German government sources said the key problem for resuming peace talks was that the current front line no longer tallies with what was agreed at talks in Minsk, Belarus in 2014.

For talks to begin anew, Kiev would have to accept that the separatists now control several hundred square kilometers more than agreed in Minsk without Kiev having to give up its claim to these areas as part of the Ukrainian state.

In the end, the goal of the peace process should be the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, said that Kiev would not consider any peace plan that casts doubt on the nation’s territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence.

The Franco-German plan looks like an eleventh-hour bid to halt the escalation of the conflict ahead of diplomatic deadlines likely to make east-west confrontation even worse.

Peace talks collapsed on Saturday in Belarus and EU leaders are expected to consider new sanctions against Moscow next week.

Holland and Merkel met President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev on Thursday and were expected to go to Moscow to see Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Friday.
Poroshenko said the talks “gave hope that there will be a result in a ceasefire”.

Russia’s Putin Supports Ukraine Election

Russian President Putin listens during an interview with German public broadcaster ARD at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside MoscowRussia’s President Vladimir Putin has supported Ukraine’s presidential election that will hold on May 25, describing it as a step “in the right direction”.

But he said the vote would decide nothing unless the rights of “all citizens” were protected.

Ukraine’s PM described as “hot air” Mr Putin’s call for an independence referendum, planned this weekend by separatists in the east, to be delayed.

Mr Putin also said that Russia had pulled back its troops from the border, as tension remains high.

Moscow has said it will protect the rights of the largely Russian-speaking people in the south and east against what it calls an undemocratic government in Kiev.

Kiev has rejected pro-Russian activists’ demands for greater autonomy, fearing it could lead to the break-up of the country, and has sent in troops in recent weeks to seize back official buildings occupied by rebels.

Mr Putin suggested that Kiev’s military operation in eastern Ukraine could be halted in exchange for a postponement of the referendum scheduled to take place in several areas on Sunday.

But Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Mr Putin of “talking through his hat”.

Earlier on Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists took back the city hall in the southern port of Mariupol after it was briefly taken over by Ukrainian government forces.

President Putin made his suggestion after talks in Moscow with Didier Burkhalter, the Swiss president and current chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The organisers of the referendum in Donetsk – who have prepared some three million ballot papers – said they would meet on Friday to discuss his request.

On the forthcoming presidential elections, Mr Putin said: “I would like to stress that… while they are a move in the right direction, [they] will not decide anything if all the citizens of Ukraine fail to understand how their rights are protected after the elections are held.”

He also said he had pulled back Russian forces from the border with Ukraine to “places of regular exercises, at training grounds”, although Nato said it had “not seen any significant change to the disposition of troops along the border”.

The BBC reports that President Putin is not known for performing U-turns, but his latest comments on Ukraine do suggest a shift in the Kremlin’s position – which will be treated with some caution by the West.