Putin Self-Isolates After COVID-19 Cases Detected In Inner Circle

Russian President Vladimir Putin  (File Photo) Ramil SITDIKOV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin will self-isolate after coronavirus cases were detected in his inner circle, the Kremlin said Tuesday, as Russia struggles with stubbornly high COVID-19 infection rates. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin was “absolutely healthy”.

When asked whether Putin had taken a coronavirus test and if it was negative, Peskov replied: “Undoubtedly”.

Putin had been due to travel to Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe for a regional summit later this week but in a call with President Emomali Rakhmon said he would not be able to attend in person.

“Putin said that in connection with identified coronavirus cases in his circle, he will observe a self-isolation regime for a certain period of time,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Self-isolation doesn’t directly affect the president’s work, there will just be no in-person events for some time,” Peskov told journalists.

He did not specify how long the 68-year-old president will be self-isolating for and declined to say who in Putin’s entourage had tested positive.

Later on Tuesday, Putin was due to meet with the leadership of the ruling United Russia party ahead of parliamentary polls on 17-19 September.

It is unclear whether he will be in self-isolation throughout the election week-end.

Russian authorities have taken exceptional measures to protect Putin — who says he has been vaccinated with Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V jab — since the start of the pandemic.

Foreign leaders, journalists and officials have all been required to self-isolate in advance of being in contact with Putin and a disinfection tunnel was installed at his residence outside Moscow.

The Russian leader said in late June that he was vaccinated with Sputnik after months of secrecy around the issue, but the Kremlin did not show images of the inoculation.

In recent months, the longtime Russian leader had resumed his work trips and face-to-face meetings, but many of his contacts are still required to spend two weeks in quarantine.

Putin on Monday met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and with Russian athletes returning from the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

– Vaccine-sceptic population –
Russia is among the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic — with the fifth-highest number of recorded cases according to an AFP tally — and has struggled to rein in infections despite easy access to vaccines.

Infections have been falling in recent days after a spike in August, but health officials still reported 17,837 new cases and 781 new deaths on Tuesday.

Authorities have struggled with a vaccine-sceptic population, with independent polls showing that a majority of Russians do not plan to be inoculated.

As of Tuesday, about 39.9 million of Russia’s 146 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid data from the regions.

Russia has several homegrown vaccines freely available to the public, but does not distribute any Western-made jabs.

Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, and a host of regions have introduced mandatory vaccination measures to speed up the inoculation drive, and Putin has repeatedly called on Russians to get vaccinated.

The Kremlin initially set a goal of fully inoculating 60 percent of Russia’s population by September, but later dropped that target even though free jabs have been available since early December.

Russian authorities have been accused of vastly downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing restrictive new measures.

As of Tuesday the country had recorded 7,176,085 cases and 194,249 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.

However, the official figures only count deaths where the virus was identified as the primary cause of death after an autopsy.

Under a broader definition for deaths linked to the coronavirus, statistics agency Rosstat reported in late August that Russia had seen more than 350,000 fatalities.

Putin Gives Cash To Police, Soldiers Ahead Of Polls

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the International Military-Technical Forum “Army-2021” held in the Patriot Park, in Kubinka outside Moscow on August 23, 2021. (Photo by Ramil SITDIKOV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered law enforcement officers and army staff receive $200, as he seeks support for his unpopular United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

The cash handouts follow earlier one-time payments for pensioners of $135 ahead of lower house State Duma polls in September, with United Russia’s ratings hit by rising prices coupled with falling wages.

Russia’s legal information portal showed Putin had signed decrees ordering one-time cash payments of 15,000 rubles ($200) for members of the military and law enforcement bodies to be handed out in September for their “social protection”.

The payments come as Russian authorities have struggled to curb soaring inflation, with Putin ordering his government several times since late 2020 to take measures to bring prices under control.

Annual inflation has reached 6.5 percent, according to the central bank, which in June hiked its key interest rate to the same figure — its biggest increase since a currency crisis in 2014.

 

A Russian soldier holds a flag at the International Military-Technical Forum “Army-2021” held in the Patriot Park, Kubinka, near Moscow, on August 23, 2021. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

 

United Russia has seen its ratings fall in recent years after the government passed a controversial pension plan in 2018 and as the country’s economy has stagnated.

The ruling party is polling around 30 percent, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM — a 10-point drop from the last lower house elections in 2016.

It currently controls 75 percent of seats in the State Duma, with the rest held by parties widely seen as doing the Kremlin’s bidding.

 

Russian honour guards look on after the opening ceremony of the International Military-Technical Forum “Army-2021” held in the Patriot Park, Kubinka, near Moscow, on August 23, 2021. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

 

Ahead of the September vote, Russian authorities have pursued a crackdown on the opposition and independent media.

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny has seen his organisations declared “extremist” and banned in the country, while all of his top allies have fled.

Meanwhile, leading independent media outlets including the Meduza news website and the Dozhd TV channel have been designated “foreign agents”, while investigative outlet Proekt was declared an “undesirable organisation”.

Putin Says US-Russia Summit ‘Constructive’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), US President Joe Biden (2nd L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2n R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) pose for press ahead of the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange, in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

 

 

The first summit between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart was “constructive”, Vladimir Putin said Wednesday after the talks in Geneva ended.

“The conversation was absolutely constructive”, Putin told reporters, adding that the sides had agreed for their ambassadors to return in a small gesture of healing in their strained relations.

The ambassadors “will return to their place of work. When exactly is a purely technical question,” Putin told reporters after the summit, which lasted about three and a half hours.

Diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington had all but broken down since Biden took office in January.

After Biden likened Putin to a “killer”, Russia in March took the rare step of recalling its ambassador Anatoly Antonov. The US envoy, John Sullivan, likewise returned to Washington.

Despite tensions, the summit at an elegant villa on the shore of Lake Geneva got off to a good start, with the two leaders shaking hands and striking cautiously positive notes.

Biden, who was set to hold a separate press conference later, pressed Putin to replace the combustible US-Russian stand-off with a more “predictable” relationship between “two great powers” capable of agreeing to disagree.

He stressed his desire to take US-Russian relations off their increasingly unstable trajectory, in which Washington accuses the Kremlin of everything from meddling in elections to cyberwarfare.

“It’s always better to meet face to face,” he told Putin as they met in the villa’s library, with a globe placed between them.

“We are trying to determine where we have a mutual interest, where we can cooperate; and where we don’t, establish a predictable and rational way in which we disagree — two great powers,” Biden said.

Putin noted at the start of the meeting that “a lot of issues” need addressing “at the highest level” and that he hoped the meeting would be “productive”.

At his press conference after the summit, Putin signalled progress in a number of areas, including an agreement to “start consultations on cybersecurity”.

– Cold War, new problems –
Biden’s apparent offer of a more understanding — if not necessarily a friendly relationship — went a long way toward what Putin is reportedly seeking: increased respect on the world stage.

The reference to the United States and Russia as “two great powers” was sure to please the Kremlin leader, who has dominated his country for two decades, infuriating the West with invasions of Ukraine and Georgia, and often brutal crushing of political dissent.

Expectations were low for anything more than a modest thaw in relations.

Illustrating the frostiness, there was no shared meal during the talks, which were attended by the two countries’ foreign ministers and later by an expanded group of officials.

The choice of Geneva recalled the Cold War summit between US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the Swiss city in 1985.

The summit villa, encircled with barbed wire, was under intense security. Grey patrol boats cruised along the lake front and heavily-armed camouflaged troops stood guard at a nearby yacht marina.

But in contrast with 1985, tensions are less about strategic nuclear weapons and competing ideologies than what the Biden administration sees as an increasingly rogue regime.

From cyberattacks on American entities and meddling in the last two US presidential elections, to human rights violations and aggression against Ukraine and other European countries, Washington’s list of allegations against the Kremlin runs long.

Putin came to the summit arguing that Moscow is simply challenging US hegemony — part of a bid to promote a so-called “multi-polar” world that has seen Russia draw close with the US’s arguably even more powerful adversary China.

In a pre-summit interview with NBC News, he scoffed at allegations that he had anything to do with cyberattacks or the near-fatal poisoning of one of his last remaining domestic opponents, Alexei Navalny.

– ‘Worthy adversary’ –
Biden, ending an intensive first foreign trip as president, arrived in Geneva after summits with NATO and the European Union in Brussels, and a G7 summit in Britain.

While in Brussels, he said he would detail his “red lines.”

“I’m not looking for conflict,” he said, but “we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities”.

However, Biden, who had previously characterised Putin as a “killer”, upgraded the Russian leader to “worthy adversary”.

And for all the rhetoric, the White House and Kremlin both say they are open to doing business in a limited way.

Officials point to the recent extension of the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty as an example of successful diplomacy.

Unlike in 2018, when Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump met Putin in Helsinki, there was to be no joint press conference at the end of the summit.

The US side clearly wanted to avoid the optics of having Biden sharing that kind of platform with the Russian president.

In 2018, Trump caused a stir by saying, as Putin stood beside him, that he believed the Kremlin leader over his own intelligence services when it came to accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election bringing Trump to power.

Putin Vows To ‘Firmly’ Defend Russian Interests On WWII Victory Day

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon attend a flower-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2021. PHOTO: Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday vowed  Russia will “firmly” defend national interests and denounced the return of “Russophobia”, as the country marked the 76th anniversary of victory in World War II.

His speech to thousands of soldiers and veterans on Red Square came as recent tensions between Moscow and the West have recalled the Cold War over the conflict in Ukraine and a litany of spy scandals in Europe.

“The Soviet people kept their sacred oath, defended the homeland, and freed the countries of Europe from the black plague,” Putin told the crowd.

READ ALSO: Pope Francis Calls For End To Clashes In Jerusalem

“Russia consistently defends international law. At the same time, we will firmly defend our national interests to ensure the safety of our people,” he said.

The Russian leader also condemned what he called a creeping return of ideologies of the time, when “slogans of racial and national superiority, of anti-semitism and Russophobia, became ever more cynical”.

His speech came at the start of an annual parade that sees  military hardware roll through the streets of Moscow.

More than 12,000 military personnel took part in Sunday’s parade, as well as some 190 pieces of military equipment and 76 fighter jets and helicopters.

Victory Day parades, which only became an annual event after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and have taken on increasing importance in projecting Russia’s renewed military might during Putin’s two decades in power, also took place Sunday in dozens of cities across the nation.

– ‘Victory of the entire Russian people’ –

A survey this week by state-run pollster VTsIOM showed that 69 percent of Russians view Victory Day as the most important holiday on the calendar.

A third of respondents said they would take part in the celebrations, while a fifth said they would watch on television.

“For me and my family, this holiday marks the victory of the entire Russian people,” Yulia Gulevskikh, a 31-year-old accountant told AFP in the Far East city of Vladivostok.

“We are proud, remember and honour all our relatives and friends. And all the brave soldiers,” she added, noting she was happy the parade took place despite pandemic measures.

This year’s Victory Day was the second during the coronavirus pandemic.

Russia has lifted nearly all of its measures to limit the spread of the virus, though a ban remains in place on mass gatherings in most regions.

As of Sunday, total infections stood at nearly 4.9 million and fatalities at over 113,000, according to a tally by health officials.

But authorities have been criticised for downplaying the severity Russia’s outbreak by counting only fatalities where the coronavirus was found to be the primary cause of death after an autopsy.

Figures released by Russia’s statistics agency last month showed that the country had actually recorded some 250,000 virus-related deaths by the end of March.

– Tensions with the West –

Sunday’s commemorations came as Russia in recent weeks has seen its diplomats expelled from a clutch of European countries over espionage scandals, while the United States and the European Union have levied new sanctions on Moscow over the treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and allegations of hacking and cyberattacks.

Tensions have also soared over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which erupted after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and where Moscow is widely seen as backing pro-Russia separatists.

Clashes between the government and separatists have been intensifying since January in a conflict which has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

Russia last month amassed 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders and in Crimea, its biggest buildup since 2014, though it quickly announced a drawdown in what many saw as a test for new US President Joe Biden.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kiev in a show of support for Ukraine against Russia, and before an expected summit between Putin and Biden next month.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky travelled with European diplomats to the pro-Russian breakaway eastern region of Lugansk to commemorate the end of WWII.

Putin To Be Vaccinated In Private, Says Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a photograph as he rests during his holiday in the Siberian federal district on March 21, 2021. PHOTO: Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

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.

READ ALSO: Huge Blaze At Rohingya Camp In Bangladesh Kills 15, Leaves 400 Missing

“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.

AFP

WHO Wants To Review Russian Vaccine Safety Data

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP
File photo: World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Fabrice COFFRINI / POOL / AFP

 

The World Health Organization said any WHO stamp of approval on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate would require a rigorous safety data review, after Russia announced Tuesday it had approved a vaccine.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the new coronavirus.

“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” the United Nations health agency’s spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva at an online press briefing.

“Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data.”

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has been developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the country’s defence ministry.

A total of 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, according to the latest WHO overview produced on July 31.

Of those, 139 are still in pre-clinical evaluation, while the other 26 are in the various phases of being tested on humans, of which six are the furthest ahead, having reached Phase 3 of clinical evaluation.

The Gamaleya candidate being produced in Russia, which is among the 26 being tested on humans, is listed as being in Phase 1.

Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund which finances the vaccine project, said Phase 3 trials would start on Wednesday, industrial production was expected from September and that 20 countries had pre-ordered more than a billion doses.

‘Stamp of quality’

“Every country has national regulatory agencies that approve the use of vaccines or medicines on its territory,” Jasarevic explained.

“WHO has in place a process of pre-qualification for vaccines but also for medicines. Manufacturers ask to have the WHO pre-qualification because it is a sort of stamp of quality.

“To get this, there is a review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data that are gathered through the clinical trials. WHO will do this for any candidate vaccine.”

The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.

“We are encouraged by the speed by which several candidate vaccines have been developing and as we have been always saying, we hope some of these vaccines will prove to be safe and efficient,” said Jasarevic.

“Accelerating progress does not mean compromising on safety,” he said.

 

 

-AFP

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.