‘Panama Papers’ Whistleblower Says Russia ‘Wants Me Dead’

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Talent and Success Educational Foundation via a video link at the Sirius Educational Center for Gifted Children in Sochi on May 11, 2022. Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Talent and Success Educational Foundation via a video link at the Sirius Educational Center for Gifted Children in Sochi on May 11, 2022.
Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

 

The whistleblower behind the “Panama Papers” which revealed major tax evasion and fraud worldwide said he feared Russian retribution, in an interview published Saturday by Germany’s Der Spiegel.

The magazine quoted him under his pseudonym John Doe as saying he had evidence of financial wrongdoing by top Russian officials and their allies which helped fund the war in Ukraine.

Asked by Spiegel whether he feared for his life, he said, “It’s a risk that I live with, given that the Russian government has expressed the fact that it wants me dead.”

When Spiegel asked John Doe about tax havens used by “strongmen in autocratic regimes”, he spoke of the alleged role they play in Russia, whose leaders deny breaking the law.

Russian President Vladimir “Putin is more of a threat to the United States than Hitler ever was, and shell companies are his best friend,” he said.

“Shell companies funding the Russian military are what kill innocent civilians in Ukraine as Putin’s missiles target shopping centres.”

He said anonymous firms “make these horrors and more possible by removing accountability from society. But without accountability, society cannot function.”

He said Russian state-funded channel RT had aired a two-part Panama Papers docudrama featuring a “John Doe” character “who suffered a torture-induced head injury during the opening credits”.

“However bizarre and tacky, it was not subtle,” he said.

“We have seen others with connections to offshore accounts and tax justice resort to murder, as with the tragedies involving Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak,” referring to investigative reporters killed in Malta and Slovakia.

In what was billed as his first interview since the release of the Panama Papers in 2016, John Doe said he had no plans to come out from the cover of anonymity.

“The Panama Papers involve so many different transnational criminal organisations, some of them with links to governments, that it’s difficult to imagine how it could ever be safe to identify myself,” he said.

The Panama Papers were one of several leaks of financial documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Their revelations triggered the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and paved the way for the leader of Pakistan to be ousted.

Putin Says West Must Remove Restrictions On Russian Grain Exports

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Talent and Success Educational Foundation via a video link at the Sirius Educational Center for Gifted Children in Sochi on May 11, 2022. Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Talent and Success Educational Foundation via a video link at the Sirius Educational Center for Gifted Children in Sochi on May 11, 2022.
Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said that the West must remove restrictions on exports of Russian grain.

“We will facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but we are proceeding from the fact that all restrictions related to possible deliveries for the export of Russian grain will be lifted,” Putin told reporters in Tehran after talks with the presidents of Iran and Turkey.

Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine has hampered shipments from one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat and other grain, sparking fears of global food shortages.

“As you know, Americans have lifted — essentially lifted — restrictions on the supply of Russian fertilizers to the world markets,” Putin said.

“If they sincerely want to improve the situation on the international food markets, I hope the same will happen with the supply of Russian grain for export.”

Cereal prices in Africa, the world’s poorest continent, have surged because of the slump in exports from Ukraine, sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change and sparking fears of social unrest.

The United Nations has said Africa faces an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the conflict.

Johnson Says Putin Reputation ‘Permanently Polluted’ After Bucha Killings

A handout photo released by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) speaking after walking in central Kyiv, on April 9, 2022. Stringer / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
A handout photo released by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) speaking after walking in central Kyiv, on April 9, 2022. Stringer / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

The discovery of civilian bodies in Ukrainian towns has “permanently polluted” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputation, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a visit to Kyiv Saturday.

“What Putin has done in places like Bucha and Irpin is war crimes that have permanently polluted his reputation and the reputation of his government,” Johnson said, standing next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Johnson became the latest European leader to visit Kyiv this weekend after the bodies were discovered in several towns from where the Russian army retreated.

Johnson praised Ukraine for “defying odds” and rebuffing a Russian offensive on Kyiv.

READ ALSO: Ukraine War Pushes World Food Prices To Record High

“The Russians believed Ukraine could be engulfed in a matter of days and that Kyiv would falls in hours to their armies,” he said, referring to Western intelligence.

“How wrong they were.”

The Ukrainian people have “shown the courage of a lion”, he added.

“The world has found new heros and those heroes are the people of Ukraine.”

After talks with Zelensky, Johnson vowed UK armoured vehicles and anti-ship missiles for Ukraine.

Zelensky called on the West to follow the UK in providing military aide to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia.

“Other Western democratic countries should follow the UK’s example,” Zelensky said after talks with Johnson.

Ukraine ‘defied odds’

“It is because of President (Volodymyr) Zelensky’s resolute leadership and the invincible heroism and courage of the Ukrainian people that (Vladimir) Putin’s monstrous aims are being thwarted,” Johnson said after meeting Zelensky, according to a Downing Street statement.

Johnson set out extra military aid of 120 armoured vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems, “to support Ukraine in this crucial phase while Russia’s illegal assault continues”, the statement added.

That is on top of UK aid announced Friday of more Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles and another 800 anti-tank missiles, along with “loitering” drones for “precision strikes” against the Russians.

As world powers held a fundraising round for Ukraine, Johnson also promised an extra $500 million via the World Bank.

Johnson said it had been a “privilege” to meet Zelensky in person on his surprise visit, which was not pre-announced in London.

“Ukraine has defied the odds and pushed back Russian forces from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century,” he said.

“I made clear today that the United Kingdom stands unwaveringly with them in this ongoing fight, and we are in it for the long run.”

AFP

Three Weeks Of War In Ukraine

A woman looks at a computer screen watching a dissenting Russian Channel One employee entering Ostankino on-air TV studio during Russia’s most-watched evening news broadcast, holding up a poster which reads as “No War” and condemning Moscow’s military action in Ukraine in Moscow on March 15, 2022.  (Photo by AFP)

 

 

Russia invaded Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, setting off the worst conflict in Europe in decades.

As the fighting enters its 21st day we look back on the conflict that jolted the post-Cold War world order.

– Russia invades –
Russian President Vladimir Putin announces a “special military operation” to “demilitarise”and “de-nazify” the former Soviet state and support Moscow-backed separatists in the east. He warns the international community against intervening.

A full-scale invasion starts with air and missile strikes on several cities.

– Ukraine resists –
Ukrainian forces put up stronger-than-expected resistance, frustrating Russian plans for a lightning takeover.

President Volodymyr Zelensky gains instant hero status in Ukraine and abroad by vowing to stay put in Kyiv and lead the resistance.

– Massive sanctions –

The West weighs in with unprecedented sanctions against Russia and military aid for Ukraine.

Air spaces are closed to Russian aircraft and Russia is kicked out of one sporting and cultural event after another, including the World Cup. Major companies start to shut up shop in Russia.

– Nuclear threat –

With his troops quickly getting bogged down, Putin puts Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert on February 27, citing “aggressive” statements by NATO members and the financial sanctions.

The dramatic move, which draws comparisons with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, is seen as a warning to NATO not to intervene.

– First talks –

During the first talks between Kyiv and Moscow on February 28, Russia sets out its demands, including the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the “demilitarisation” and “de-nazification” of the Ukrainian state and the guarantee of its neutrality.

As the talks are ongoing Russian rockets pound civilian areas of Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv. Zelensky makes an impassioned appeal for “immediate” EU membership.

– Gains in the south –

The shelling seen in Kharkiv spreads elsewhere. On March 1, satellite images show a massive Russian column bearing down on Kyiv. But it makes slow progress.

Russian troops have far more success in the south, where they lay siege to the strategic port of Mariupol, putting Moscow closer to linking up territory held by pro-Russian rebels with the peninsula of Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine and annexed in 2014.

The southern city of Kherson falls and on March 4, Russian troops take over Europe’s biggest nuclear power station at Zaporizhzhia.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg rejects Kyiv’s call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it would lead to a wider war in Europe.

– Media gagged –

On March 4, Russia enacts a new law punishing “fake news” about what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine with jail terms of up to 15 years.

Many international media organisations suspend their coverage from Russia, where more than 13,500 anti-war protesters are arrested.

– Civilians evacuated –

The first of several attempts to evacuate residents freezing and hungry in the besieged southern port of Mariupol falls apart in a flurry of mutual finger-pointing by Moscow and Kyiv.

Ukraine and the UN reject Moscow’s offer to create humanitarian corridors to Russia or its ally Belarus.

After days of stop-start progress, evacuations finally gather pace, with tens of thousands civilians escaping the northeastern city of Sumy and suburbs of Kyiv on March 8.

– Oil embargo –

In a bid to starve Moscow of funds for the war US President Joe Biden announces a ban on US imports of Russian oil and gas. The EU says it will cut its imports of Russian gas by two-thirds and Britain says it will phase out its Russian oil imports.

An attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, which wounded 17 people, including a heavily pregnant woman, causes international outrage. Moscow says the attack was staged.

– Western Ukraine hit –
The war inches closer to the border with Poland, a NATO member, when 35 people are killed and more than 130 injured in air strikes on a military training ground outside the city of Lviv.

Mariupol finally gets some relief, with more than 160 cars driving out of the city in a convoy on March 14.

– Positive signs from talks  –

In a sign of cracks in domestic support for the war, a Russian journalist interrupts the country’s most-watched evening news broadcast to hold up a sign reading “No War”.

As central Kyiv comes under fire and the two sides engage in a fifth round of talks, both Russia and Ukraine begin to sound more positive about the chances of a peace deal.

Putin Says Russia’s Ukraine Operation Is A ‘Success’

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council in Moscow on February 21, 2022. – President Vladimir Putin said on February 21, 2022, he would make a decision “today” on recognising the independence of east Ukraine’s rebel republics, after Russia’s top officials made impassioned speeches in favour of the move. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP)

 

 

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his military campaign in Ukraine was a success and that he would not allow the country to become a “springboard” used to threaten Russia.

“The operation is developing successfully and in strict accordance with plans,” Putin said at a televised government meeting, adding Russia had no choice but to send in troops. “We will not allow Ukraine to serve as a springboard for aggressive actions against Russia.”

Putin, Jinping Hail Relations Amid Tensions With West

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on December 15, 2021. AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hailed Russia’s “model” relations with China in a call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and confirmed he would attend Beijing’s Olympics, as both countries face increasing criticism from the West.

The video call came days after G7 foreign ministers discussed Moscow’s sabre-rattling against Ukraine and Beijing’s crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

“In February we will finally be able to meet in person in Beijing,” Putin said in a national television broadcast of the conversation after he said he would attend the Games, calling Xi his “dear friend”.

“China-Russia relations have withstood all kinds of stern tests, and are showing new dynamism and vitality,” Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported Xi as saying.

The United States, Britain, Canada and Australia are not sending political representatives to the Olympics over China’s abuse of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Beijing and Moscow denounced the diplomatic boycott and Putin on Wednesday said both leaders opposed “any attempt to politicise sport and the Olympic movement”, a criticism Russia has repeatedly levelled at the West.

Russia was found to have used a state-backed doping programme at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and was banned from international competitions afterwards.

Russian athletes are allowed to compete as neutrals — without the Russian flag or anthem — if they can prove their doping record is clean.

Russian officials including Putin are banned from attending international competitions unless invited by the head of state of the host country. Xi has invited Putin to attend.

Both China and Russia have seen their relationship with Western nations deteriorate in recent years and have sought to project a more unified front.

On Wednesday, Putin told Xi that “a new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries” that includes a “determination to turn our common border into a belt of eternal peace and good-neighbourliness”.

“I consider these relations to be a real model for inter-state cooperation in the 21st century,” the Russian leader said.

‘Unprecedented’ relations

After the call, the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov said that the conversation between “two great friendly states” had lasted 90 minutes and was “very positive”.

“Both stated that the relationship had reached an unprecedented high level,” he told reporters.

The talks came after both Russia and China were pointedly left out of US President Joe Biden’s democracy summit last week.

The US and its allies have for weeks accused Russia of planning an invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbour Ukraine, warning of massive coordinated sanctions should Putin launch an attack.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are stationed near Ukraine, where the West has accused the Kremlin of backing pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.

Russia rejects the allegations and blames the West for stoking tensions.

In calls on Tuesday with the leaders of France and Finland, Putin said he wanted security talks with the United States and NATO to begin without delay.

Russia’s demands included stopping NATO from expanding east and the deployment of weapons in neighbouring states, including Ukraine.

China’s relationships with multiple Western allies, meanwhile, have cratered in recent years over a host of issues — from trade and security to Beijing’s human rights record and vows to seize Taiwan, which it claims.

China, an authoritarian one-party state, responded with fury to being left out of the Biden summit, branding US democracy a “weapon of mass destruction”.

Beijing’s diplomats overseas and its state-controlled media ramped up a propaganda blitz criticising Western democracy as corrupt and a failure.

Instead, they touted “whole-process people’s democracy”, aiming to shore up legitimacy for the ruling Communist Party, which has swung increasingly authoritarian under Xi.

AFP

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