Russia, Turkey Strike Deal On Syria Border

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a joint press conference following their talks in the Black sea resort of Sochi on October 22, 2019. Sergei CHIRIKOV / POOL / AFP

 

Russia and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to ensure Kurdish forces withdraw from areas close to Syria’s border with Turkey and to launch joint patrols, in a deal hailed as “historic” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After marathon talks in Russia’s southern city of Sochi, Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced the deal just hours ahead of a deadline for Turkey to restart its assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.

The agreement cements Russia and Turkey’s roles as the main foreign players in Syria, after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from the country’s north earlier this month.

That announcement cleared the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border offensive on October 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey has seized control of a “safe zone” inside Syria about 120 kilometres long (75 miles) and 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep.

Tuesday’s agreement with Moscow will see it preserve that zone between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, giving Ankara a crucial presence inside the country.

From noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the border outside the zone.

This withdrawal must be finalised within 150 hours, according to a text of the agreement released after the talks.

Russian and Turkish forces will then begin joint patrols along the Turkish-controlled zone.

Putin said the decisions were “very important, if not crucial, to allowing us to resolve the acute situation on the Syrian-Turkish border.”

Deadline passes 

Erdogan had earlier threatened to resume Ankara’s military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria if they did not withdraw as agreed under a US-brokered deal.

A deadline for the withdrawal passed at 1900 GMT on Tuesday, with a Kurdish official telling AFP they had “fully complied” ahead of the deadline.

The Turkish operation “is ending, and everything will depend now on the implementation of these agreements,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Sochi.

Turkey’s assault had sparked Western outrage and accusations of betrayal from the Kurds, whose frontline fighters were crucial in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Russia is a key ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and has demanded that Turkey respect the country’s territorial integrity.

As the US troops began to withdraw last week, Russian forces moved in to support the Syrian army, whose help against Turkey was requested by the Kurds.

Erdogan said last week he was not bothered by the Damascus regime’s return as what mattered to Ankara was pushing back the Kurdish fighters from the safe zone.

Despite being on the opposite sides of the Syria conflict, Turkey and Russia have been working together to find a solution to the war.

Tuesday’s agreement said the two countries would try “to find a lasting political solution to the Syrian conflict”.

It said Russia and Turkey were determined “to combat terrorism in all forms… and to disrupt separatist agendas in Syrian territory”.

Ankara says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.

The agreement said efforts would also be launched for the return of refugees to Syria “in a safe and voluntary manner”.

Ankara has said some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey can be rehoused inside the safe zone.

Video Stars: Russian Child Bloggers Score Millions Of ‘Likes’

Russian child blogger Liza Anokhina, 12, participates in a shoot for her blog in a Moscow park on September 13, 2019. Liza Anokhina is one of Russia’s most popular child bloggers with 2.3 million followers on Instagram.
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Liza Anokhina was 11 when people started recognising her in the street. Now a year older, she is one of Russia’s most popular child bloggers with 2.3 million followers on Instagram.

In a Moscow park, her producer jogs backwards, using his phone to film as Liza runs and blows raspberries. Tall and slim and wearing thick makeup for the shoot, she squeals with laughter when she views the result.

“We’ve done (Instagram) ‘stories’, now we’ll do TikTok,” the 25-year-old producer Ivan Bushmelev tells her, referring to her main social media platform.

Russia counts some 40 million Instagram users, behind only Indonesia, India, Brazil and the United States, according to data firm Statista.

And the photo-sharing platform is, as elsewhere in Europe, particularly popular among children, analysts say.

Instagram and other platforms have spawned a generation of young “influencers”, leading to concerns that parents might exploit children for financial gain.

Another risk is that the desire to accumulate “likes” may be psychologically damaging for children.

Such concerns have forced social media companies themselves to react, with YouTube and Instagram moving to make such blogs less attractive to advertisers and to make “likes” invisible to users other than the creators.

Yet many Russian parents encourage their children to blog and even send them to classes to improve their skills.

The youngest child bloggers unwrap toys or sweets. Older ones like Liza speak on camera and film sketches. They earn from ads and by promoting products, as brands value their connection with their peers.

‘Earnings A ‘Secret’

Liza clutches her phone in a pink plastic case, admitting that she uses it eight hours a day.

The clips on her Instagram anokhina_elizabeth_2007 are ultra-polished and looping, with visual effects and music.

Asked how her earnings have changed her family’s life, she gives what sounds like a well-practised answer: “It has changed our life for the better. I prefer to keep the topic of my earnings a secret.”

Revealing few details, she says her mother is a lawyer while her father is a former military man.

She vows to keep on creating content, even as social media platforms prepare to bring in changes that could hit her channels.

To combat cyber-bullying, Instagram is experimenting with hiding the number of “likes” on others’ posts. And from next year YouTube will bar targeted ads in videos aimed at children.

“It is a problem because of the way viewers are: they’re used to seeing numbers,” Liza’s producer says of the potential Instagram changes. “Not just viewers but advertisers, too.”

Fans, both girls and boys, come up to take selfies with Liza.

“She speaks well, she’s clever, she makes interesting videos,” says Natalya Usacheva, 12, while Veronika Kosynkina, also 12, says she aspires “to dress just as stylishly” as Liza.

For Moscow-based child psychologist Viktoria Karavayeva, top child bloggers, just like school sports stars, could develop “dependence on popularity — that is, likes, comments, people talking about them.”

This could lead to “dependence on outside reactions and approval, tunnel vision only on this,” she said.

While it is normal for teenagers to value their peers’ esteem, those who are “very sensitive to comparisons and outside judgement” may come to crave online likes, she said.

Big Earnings, Many Subscribers

At a video blogging class at Moscow’s Coddy programming school, 11-year-old Artyom Shalovey has big ambitions.

“I’m constantly waiting for the moment when I get 1 million subscribers,” he said, planning to blog on computer games, pranks and BMX bike stunts.

He has a way to go, with around 130 subscribers currently.

“For me, it’s important both earning lots of money and having lots of subscribers,” he says.

During the two-hour class, children discuss topics, write scripts and shoot with their phones.

Their 23-year-old teacher, Amela Shabotich, is a student at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. She says she enjoys seeing children’s blogs develop, with topics ranging from fashion modelling to learning English.

Psychologist Karavayeva says parents tend to be more concerned with rationing the time their children spend on gadgets than with the content, and some children see material that scares them.

She “has encountered various fears (among children) after watching certain videos or films discussed in their social group.”

Parents should follow their children’s favourite bloggers and “discuss things that bother them,” she suggests.

“I don’t think simple restrictions or a ban can eradicate parents’ fears or create understanding in the family. In general, I’m for talking.”

A mother-of-three who gave her name only as Yulia admitted she was stunned by her children’s viewing choices, such as videos showing children cracking open endless chocolate eggs to find toys.

“Imagine my amazement when I found out what they were watching,” she said of her children aged 7 to 10.

“I always thought kids really liked Winnie the Pooh… but no, if you leave them on YouTube they actually end up with someone unwrapping hundreds of Kinder Eggs.”

Buhari, Three Governors, Others Arrive In Russia

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has arrived in Russia for a three-day inaugural Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum, which will focus on peace, security, and development.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed in a statement that the President’s plane touched the tarmac of the Sochi International Airport at 11.25pm on Monday.

He added that President Buhari was received by the Mayor of the City of Sochi, Anatoliy Nikolayevich Pakhomov, and other state officials.

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The Economic Forum and Summit will hold on Wednesday and Thursday with four plenary sessions that will be attended by over 30 African Heads of State and governments.

According to Shehu, these leaders have confirmed participation, including the Chairman of the African Union and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

 

The summit will be co-chaired by President Vladimir Putin, who will present a keynote address at the opening on Wednesday, and the African Union Chairman.

The President’s spokesman said his principal and the Russian leader would meet at Nigeria and Russian bilateral meeting on Wednesday, while President Buhari would make a statement at the summit on Thursday.

Other participants at the summit that will showcase Russian interest and investment potential in Africa include businessmen, experts, investors, leaders of major sub-regional associations and organisations.

An African Business Forum, which will bring together African and Russian business leaders, will be held during the event to enhance Russian investments in Africa, and promote African business interest in the host country.

 

About 250 Nigerian business interests will be participating in the forum.

Shehu said, “It is important that this meeting is taking place at this time. All the big economies are picking a stronger interest in Africa.

“We now have US-Africa Summit, India-Africa Summit, China-Africa Summit, and Japan-Africa Summit, so Russia has signified its interest for political, cultural and economic partnership.”

“Nigeria has had an excellent relationship with Russia over the years. We will not forget how the country assisted us in keeping Nigeria as one during the civil war when some of our traditional allies deserted us.

“They have also stood behind us in the fight against terrorism, Boko Haram and ISWA, and Russia has demonstrated its capacity in gas production, a resource which Nigeria has a huge potential of utilising,” he added.

 

The presidential aide said the summit would look into issues of sustainable energy, mines and steel, infrastructure development in Africa, nuclear energy and trade and investment.

On security, he said the meeting would come up with proposals for a security architecture that would be heavily driven by new technology.

President Buhari was accompanied by Governor Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara, and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.

Ministers on the trip include Geoffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs), Adeniyi Adebayo (Trade and Investment), Olamilekan Adegbite (Mines and Steel Development), and Timipre Sylva (Minister of State, Petroleum).

Buhari To Meet Putin In Russia

 

President Muhammadu Buhari departs Abuja Monday to attend a three-day Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, October 23rd – 25th, with focus on exploring and expanding opportunities in security, trade and investment, science and technology, and gas production.

During the summit, President Buhari will meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to further strengthen relations in security, trade and investment, and building partnership that will enhance Nigeria’s huge gas potential, following Russia’s remarkable success in gas exportation.

The summit, which will be attended by African Heads of State, will bring fresh perspectives on some global issues and challenges like nuclear technology, energy development, digital transformation, environment, technical security, mining and steel, education, agriculture, infrastructure and development strategies.

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An African Business Forum, which will bring together African and Russian business leaders, will be held during the event to enhance Russian investments in Africa, and promote African business interest in the host country.

President Buhari will be accompanied by Governor Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe State, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.

Others on the trip are: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite and Minister of State, Petroleum, Timipre Sylva.

The President will return to the country after the summit.

Five Children Killed In Russian Fire

 

Five young children and two adults were killed when a fire ripped through a two-storey residential building in the central Russian city of Rostov early Saturday, authorities said.

The youngest child to have died was 15 months old and the oldest six, a spokeswoman for the emergencies ministry told AFP.

Three more people were hospitalised with various injuries, said Sergei Shokin, head of the Rostov municipal district.

Rostov is located some 200 kilometres (124 miles) northeast of the capital Moscow.

Officials did not immediately say what caused the fire but confirmed investigators were working at the scene.

The Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal probe.

Medvedev Revives Russia’s Tennis Hopes

Russia’s tennis player Daniil Medvedev arrives for a meeting with the Russian media at the GUM department store in downtown Moscow on October 14, 2019. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Daniil Medvedev, Russia’s number one tennis player, on Monday signed caps and tennis balls for fans in his native city of Moscow, hours after landing from China, where he won the Shanghai Masters Sunday.

After a period in the doldrums, Russian tennis is now infused with a new generation of young male players and Medvedev, 23, is leading the pack, now at a career-best of fourth in the world.

Tired after a long flight and admitting he was surviving on coffee, Medvedev posed for selfies with fans.

“I do feel there’s a lot of support coming from Russia. it’s huge and it’s great,” he told AFP. “A lot of support coming from social media (and) support from my friends, because most of my friends are still Russian guys.”

Fans hailed his influence.

“The main thing is that tennis is becoming more popular in Russia thanks to him,” said one fan, 19-year-old student Daniil Trefilov.

Trefilov hopes to watch Medvedev play in the city’s Kremlin Cup this week — Medvedev said he will decide on Tuesday if he will participate.

Another fan, David Umarkhadzhiyev who leads an online group of Russian supporters, said he “fell in love with the game” from watching Medvedev play.

“After (Marat) Safin and (Yevgeny) Kafelnikov there was a kind of stagnation,” Umarkhadzhiyev said, referring to top players of past decades.

“There were no men and suddenly one or two years ago, Medvedev, (Karen) Khachanov and (Andrei) Rublev appeared.”

The trio are Russia’s top-ranking men’s players and Medvedev says they share a healthy rivalry.

“We have a great competition between us three guys and we really push each other.”

Speaking fluent English and French as well as Russian, he looks tanned and relaxed but his eyes sometimes half-close from fatigue.

Beyond rivalry with fellow Russian players, Medvedev is now challenging the dominance of tennis’s big three much older players: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and  Novak Djokovic.

“These guys are just from another planet, we have to admit it, they are really strong and we are trying our best to beat them,” he said.

He did not attach much significance to claims by commentators such as Boris Becker that the younger generation of players may not be strong enough mentally to seize the crown from the old guard.

“I just can continue to work hard, to improve every day and to try my best to be at the top of the tennis world,” he said.

“If it works out, I will be extremely happy, if it doesn’t, I know I did my best.”

Russia Detains Four Over Opposition Protest

Russia Flag

 

Russian investigators said Monday they had detained four more people suspected of violence against police at an unauthorised opposition protest in July, after jailing several demonstrators.

The powerful Investigative Committee in charge of the probe said it had detained four suspects and searched their homes while two other suspects had fled.

The latest detentions came after tens of thousands of people, many of them supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, took to the streets of Moscow during the summer demanding fair elections.

Authorities unleashed a crackdown on the anti-government rallies and sentenced several people to jail terms of between two and five years. One protester’s jail term was later reduced to a suspended sentence.

Investigators said two of the four detained on Monday, Yegor Lesnykh and Maksim Martintsov, had knocked a National Guard officer to the ground during a July 27 protest and Lesnykh had kicked another.

Another man detained, Andrei Barshai, knocked a National Guard officer onto his back, investigators said, while a fourth man, Vladimir Yemelyanov, seized hold of a National Guard officer and prevented him carrying out his duties.

The men are set to be charged shortly, after which a court will decide whether to hold them behind bars, the Investigative Committee said.

It said two others had “concealed themselves after learning of the investigators’ activities.”

Earlier, a news website that focuses on opposition detentions, Mediazona, reported that another man, activist Denni Kulinich, had been taken by investigators for questioning.

Pro-Kremlin television channel Ren-TV had named Kulinich as a “coordinator” of the protest.

AFP

9 Jihadists Killed In Russian Air Strikes

File Photo: Smoke billows during reported Syrian government forces’ bombardments on the village of Sheikh Mustafa in the southern countryside of the jihadist-held Idlib province on May 27, 2019. / AFP

 

Nine jihadists were killed Saturday in Russian airstrikes on Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, a monitoring group said.

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“Russian strikes this morning targeted the Hurras al-Deen group and Ansar al-Tahwid in eastern Idlib… killing nine jihadists,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding eight others were wounded.

Russian Alcohol Consumption Falls Steeply

FILES) In this file photo taken on August 26, 2011 a man drinks a beer in a Moscow’s outdoor pub. 
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV / AFP

 

Russia might still have a reputation as a nation of hard drinkers, but a report by the World Health Organization published Tuesday showed alcohol consumption has dropped by 43 percent since 2003.

The WHO put the decrease down to a raft of measures brought in under sport-loving President Vladimir Putin, including restrictions on alcohol sales and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

“The Russian Federation has long been considered one of the heaviest-drinking countries in the world,” the report said, adding that alcohol was a major contributor to a spike in deaths in the 1990s.

“However, in recent years these trends have been reversed.”

The study showed a 43 percent drop in alcohol consumption per capita from 2003 to 2016, driven by a steep decline in the consumption of bootleg booze.

The authors said this trend was a factor in increased life expectancies, which reached a historic peak in 2018, at 78 years for women and 68 years for men.

In the early 1990s, male life expectancy was just 57 years.

Last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev led an anti-alcohol campaign with partial prohibition, which brought down consumption from the mid-1980s until 1990.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, alcohol consumption exploded, continuing to rise until the start of the 2000s.

Under Putin, Russia has introduced measures including a ban on shops selling any alcohol after 11 pm, increases in the minimum retail price of spirits and an advertising blackout.

Earlier WHO figures showed Russian adults now drink less alcohol on average than their French and German counterparts.

Moscow has also launched a drive against smoking, last week announcing a ban on lighting up even on private balconies.

Tobacco use plummeted by more than a fifth between 2009 and 2016, down to 30 percent of Russians smoking according to the most recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

AFP

Moscow Vows To Retaliate Over New ‘Anti-Russian’ US Sanctions

Russia Flag

 

Russia on Monday said it was “bewildered” by fresh US sanctions and vowed to retaliate following what it called an “anti-Russian attack”. 

The foreign ministry said the new sanctions on several Russians  — including a businessman tied to President Vladimir Putin and a disinformation operation accused of conspiring to manipulate the US 2018 midterm election — “will not go unanswered.”

“We urge American politicians to stop this useless sanctions game, the result of which is zero, and to return to the position of common sense,” the ministry said in a statement.

The financial sanctions, which target Russian financier Evgeny Prigozhin, some of his assets and the so-called Internet Research Agency, are the first to be taken under an executive order signed last year President Donald Trump seeking to punish foreign actors accused of interfering in US elections.

The US Treasury announced the sanctions on Monday.

The foreign ministry said the sanctions were part of an “internal political crisis” in the United States in which “Russian issues are deliberately used by part of the Washington establishment as a tool to achieve their own opportunistic goals.”

The sanctions marked the third time the US had added Prigozhin’s name to its list of foreign nationals formally barred from the US financial system, a move which freezes him out of much of the global financial system as well.

US prosecutors last year indicted the Internet Research Agency as well as alleged employees, charging them with a broad conspiracy to influence the 2016 elections by spreading disinformation in the United States via social media.

The US Treasury said Monday the agency had announced its intention to do likewise in the 2018 midterms by seeking to discredit candidates it viewed as hostile to Moscow.

There was no evidence they were successful in preventing voting, altering vote counts or disrupting vote tallying, the Treasury said.

AFP

US Sanctions Putin’s Ally, Others Over 2018 Elections Interference

Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin takes the oath of office during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7, 2018. PHOTO: Alexander ASTAFYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

The United States on Monday slapped fresh sanctions on a businessman tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as to a disinformation operation accused of conspiring to manipulate the 2018 midterm elections.

The financial sanctions, which target Russian financier Evgeny Prigozhin, some of his assets and the so-called Internet Research Agency, are the first to be taken under an executive order signed last year President Donald Trump seeking to punish foreign actors accused of interfering in US elections.

“Treasury is targeting the private planes, yacht, and associated front companies of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the Russian financier behind the Internet Research Agency and its attempts to subvert American democratic processes,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The announcement follows shortly after a Washington Post report that Trump told senior visiting Russian officials in 2017 he was not concerned by Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election in his favor.

The sanctions announced Monday marked the third time the US had added Prigozhin’s name to its list of foreign nationals formally barred from the US financial system, a move which freezes him out of much of the global financial system as well.

US prosecutors last year indicted the Internet Research Agency as well as alleged employees, charging them with a broad conspiracy to influence the 2016 elections by spreading disinformation in the United States via social media.

The Treasury said Monday the IRA had announced its intention to do likewise in the 2018 midterms by seeking to discredit candidates it viewed as hostile to Moscow.

There was no evidence they were successful in preventing voting, altered vote counts or disrupted vote tallying, the Treasury said.

Treasury announced it was also designating six IRA members — Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly Aslanov, Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev, Vladimir Dmitriyevich Venkov, Igor Vladimirovich Nesterov and Denis Igorevich Kuzmi — for acting to interfere in the 2018 elections.

Treasury also announced it was placing sanctions on three aircraft and a yacht belonging to Prigozhin and three entities incorporated in the Seychelles which he used to manage these properties.

Identifying the aircraft and vessels serves as a warning to others, the Treasury said, that by continuing to provide service or landing rights they “may also be subject to future sanctions.”

AFP

Russia Adopts Paris Climate Agreement

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during their meeting in Moscow on September 23, 2019./AFP

 

Russia’s prime minister on Monday gave formal support to the Paris climate agreement and ordered Russian laws to be adapted to its obligations, according to a decree posted on the government’s website.

The document signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that Russia is formally adopting the 2015 Paris agreement and will now “allocate financial resources… to developing countries for prevention and adaptation to climate change.”

While not formally named a “ratification,” the government said in a statement that the decree signifies Russia’s adoption of the agreement and “Russia’s consent to the obligations under the Paris Agreement”.

A government source told AFP that the document is the “last step in the procedure of Russia’s adoption of the Paris agreement”.

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Presenting his decree at a government meeting, Medvedev said that it is important for Russia to participate in the process of reducing emissions.

“The threat of climate change is (the) destruction of the ecological balance, increased risks for successful development of key industries… and most importantly, a threat to the safety of people living on permafrost and increase of natural disasters.”

The news comes just hours ahead of a new major UN climate summit, aimed to reinvigorate the faltering Paris accord as mankind is releasing more greenhouse gases than ever into the atmosphere.

One of the world’s key energy producers, Russia has remained one of the largest economies and polluters that signed but failed to ratify the accord.

Greenpeace Russia in a statement welcomed the decision.

“Russia’s actions have great significance: our country has a huge potential to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions,” the environmental organisation said in a statement.