Russia Detains Four Over Opposition Protest

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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

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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.

World Sport Anti-Doping Agency To Probe Russia ‘Inconsistencies’

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced Monday a probe into “inconsistencies” in laboratory data provided by Russia, raising the possibility of a fresh ban on the country in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics.

WADA said it had given Russia three weeks to respond after problems with the data came to light.

The revelation opens the door for fresh sanctions against Russia, which was banned from the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics over doping.

“Ensuring the authenticity of the Moscow (laboratory data) was one of the critical conditions imposed by the ExCo for RUSADA to maintain its compliance,” said a statement after WADA’s Executive Committee meeting in Tokyo.

WADA has previously warned that it would take the “most stringent sanctions” if any of the data was found to have been tampered with.

Russia handed over thousands of files and samples from its Moscow anti-doping laboratory in January, fulfilling a key condition for its reinstatement by WADA last September.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) had been suspended for nearly three years over revelations including a systematic conspiracy to switch tainted samples at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

During its suspension by WADA, the International Olympic Committee allowed Russia to take part in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but Russian athletes at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games had to compete under a neutral flag.

However, athletics body the IAAF has maintained a ban on Russia since November 2015, although many of its athletes are given special dispensation to compete under a neutral banner.

The IAAF is due to re-examine the case for reintegrating Russian athletes ahead of the World Athletics Championships, which start in Doha on September 27.

AFP

Russian Footballers Jailed Over Drunken Assault Regain Freedom

Russian footballers Pavel Mamaev and Alexander Kokorin stand inside a defendants’ cage while waiting for the verdict in their trial for drunken assaults at a court in Moscow.  Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Russian footballers Pavel Mamaev and Alexander Kokorin were released on Tuesday after spending nearly a year in prison over a night of drunken assaults.

Russian state television showed Krasnodar midfielder Mamaev, 31, and Zenit Saint Petersburg forward Kokorin, 28, leave the prison where they were held in the southwestern Belgorod region.

Russian news agencies reported that Zenit Saint Petersburg has already signed a new contract with Kokorin.

“We decided to conclude a contract with Kokorin to run to the end of the season,” the club’s general director Alexander Medvedev told the RIA Novosti news agency. The football season ends in May next year.

Wearing black hoodies, the pair rushed to a car while refusing to take questions from the media gathered outside the prison.

A court this month granted the footballers early release following their convictions in May for last year’s attacks in Moscow.

Including time in pre-trial detention, they had served 11 months of their 17-18 month sentences for hooliganism.

In a booze-fuelled night last October, Mamaev and Kokorin first assaulted the chauffeur of a TV presenter as he waited in a car park.

In an assault caught on video, they then attacked two government officials in an upmarket cafe, hitting one of them with a chair.

The assaults sparked outrage in Russia, where the pair had previously caused scandal when a video emerged from a Monte Carlo nightclub showing them cavorting at a champagne-fuelled party shortly after Russia’s early exit from Euro 2016.

The Russian Premier League last year condemned the assault and briefly considered a lifetime ban.

Krasnodar still lists Mamaev as a player on its website, but the club has said that it will terminate its contract with him, which runs out at the end of the year.

Both players are Russian internationals though Kokorin last played for the national side in late 2017, while Mamaev was last selected in 2016.

AFP

Russian Government Clamps Down On Opposition After Election Loss

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny casts his vote at a polling station during to the Moscow city Duma election in Moscow on September 8, 2019. Vasily MAXIMOV / AFP

 

Russian investigators on Thursday raided dozens of regional offices of top protest leader Alexei Navalny, as well as the homes of his supporters, after mass opposition rallies this summer.

Navalny said the raids were the result of Kremlin “hysteria” after allies of President Vladimir Putin suffered major losses in local elections in Moscow on Sunday.

Navalny, who had instructed supporters to vote strategically to push out pro-Kremlin candidates, said on YouTube: “Putin got upset and is stomping his feet.”

“That’s what we’re seeing in 41 cities across the whole country,” he added, looking tired and drawn in a video hastily shot on his mobile phone.

He said the raids were carried out at more than 200 addresses in “the biggest police operation in Russia’s modern history”.

Police, investigators, national guard and security services were all involved and seized equipment such as phones and computers, he added.

Navalny has credited his strategic voting campaign for the ruling party’s loss of almost a third of its seats in the elections for Moscow city parliament.

The charismatic opposition leader said the raids targetted his network of campaign offices and the homes of campaign coordinators and their relatives, as well as his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has worked to expose officials’ questionable wealth.

“We’re calling them raids but in fact they are more like assault and robbery,” he said later in a live appearance on his YouTube channel, adding that in each raid “first all electronics are seized, and then the person has all bank cards blocked.”

 ‘Act of intimidation’ 

One female activist was forced to undress and a male officer gawked as her bra was searched for concealed material, he said.

Law enforcement agencies have not yet made any official comment on the raids.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh accused the authorities of attempting to deal a “massive blow” to the organisation.

“These raids are an act of intimidation,” she said.

“The police’s only goal is to confiscate our material and paralyse our work,” she said, adding: “We won’t stop.”

Police targeted activists across the country, from Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad to the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Navalny’s aides said.

Yarmysh told AFP she had seen a vehicle marked as belonging to the powerful Investigative Committee outside Navalny’s Moscow office but “we don’t have any raids”.

In the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals region, officers wearing masks and black uniforms without identifying marks prevented anyone from entering the office, local media reported.

The office in the city of Perm, also in the Urals, reported that operatives climbed through the windows and then pulled the front door down.

 Wave of protests 

The raids came after Russian investigators in August launched a money-laundering probe into Navalny’s foundation, which seeks donations from the public, accusing it of taking money that was procured illegally.

Russian investigators initially accused the foundation of laundering one billion rubles ($15.3 million).

In early August, a Moscow district court froze 75 million rubles ($1.1 million) held in accounts by the foundation and staff members.

Navalny’s aide Leonid Volkov said on social media that those targeted by the raids were being called in for questioning as “witnesses” in the probe.

Navalny and his supporters organised a wave of protests over the summer after popular opposition politicians were barred from standing in the Moscow parliament election, prompting a police crackdown.

The 43-year-old missed several of the rallies while serving a 30-day jail term for organising previous unauthorised protests.

Since emerging as the Kremlin’s chief critic and a highly effective campaigner and organiser, Navalny has faced a slew of legal action apparently aimed at hindering his activities.

“The only way the police state could respond to the mass rallies was with mass raids,” a lawyer for Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, Alexander Golovach, wrote on Twitter.

AFP

WTO Rules In Russia’s Favour Against Ukraine

 

The World Trade Organization on Thursday said that anti-dumping duties imposed by Kiev on Russian fertiliser ammonium nitrate violated international trade rules.

The WTO’s Appellate Body, in a final ruling, upheld a previous decision by a panel of experts in its Dispute Settlement Body that Ukraine’s justification for the tariffs, which were first imposed in 2008, was faulty.

After Ukraine extended and increased the duties in 2014, Moscow took the case to the global trade body in May 2015.

After consultations between the two sides failed to resolve the issue, a WTO panel was created and finally ruled in July 2018 in favour of Russia.

Ukraine appealed that ruling, but Thursday’s verdict is considered final.

The Appellate Body called for “Ukraine to bring its measures found … to be inconsistent with the Anti-Dumping Agreement, into conformity with its obligations under that Agreement.”

Dumping means that an exporting country sells a product or service into the importing country at prices below what it charges at home.

The use of anti-dumping duties are permitted under international trade rules as long as they adhere to strict conditions, and disputes over their use are often brought before the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body.

The WTO, which aims to create a level playing field in global trade, cannot force compliance with its rulings, but may approve retaliatory measures against violators of international trade rules.

Thursday’s ruling could be among the last issued by WTO’s appeals branch.

The United States has blocked the naming of new members to the appellate panel part of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, which will likely see the system grind to a halt by the end of the year.

AFP

Russian Sentenced to Five-Year Jail Term For Spying

Man Bags 15 Years In Prison For N5.2m Fraud

 

An Estonian court has sentenced a Russian national to five years in jail for spying, a court document shows, the latest in a string of espionage cases involving Russia in the Baltic states.

The man is identified only as A. A., a Russian with a secondary education, according to a court document made public on Wednesday.

He was detained in May 2019 and subsequently charged with espionage, the document said.

A Tallinn regional court found him guilty on August 29th, sentencing him to five years behind bars and a fine of 1,300 euros ($1,430), it said.

Estonia’s ISS counterintelligence service declined to comment on the case, saying it is still following up on related leads.

Estonia has nabbed at least 15 people recruited by Russia’s GRU intelligence service and its FSB security authority in recent years, the Baltic News Agency reported.

Tallinn and Moscow have also swapped several convicted spies in recent years.

Fellow Baltic state Lithuania announced late last year that it had broken up a local spy ring working for Russia and subsequently jailed several Lithuanians found guilty of spying for Moscow.

The outbreak of the Ukraine crisis in 2014 exacerbated tensions between the Baltic states and Russia dating back to Soviet times.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, drawing sharp criticism from Moscow.

In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea and Kremlin-backed separatists launched a conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Russia, Ukraine Swap 70 Prisoners Amid Tensions

Friends and relatives waves as a plane carrying former prisoners lands on September 7, 2019 at Boryspil international airport in Kiev after a long-awaited exchange of prisoners between Moscow and Kiev, a day after Russian President said for the first time the “large-scale” prisoner exchange with Ukraine was being finalised.  Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

 

Russia and Ukraine carried out a long-awaited swap of 70 prisoners on Saturday, in a deal hailed as a first step towards ending five years of tensions and conflict.

Two planes carrying 35 prisoners from each side landed simultaneously in Moscow and Kiev, where the passengers emerged under sunny skies.

“We have taken the first step,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on the tarmac after greeting and hugging former detainees. “We have to take all the steps to finish this horrible war.”

In emotional scenes at Kiev’s Boryspil airport, family members embraced and handed flowers to the former prisoners, many weeping with joy.

Among those swapped were 24 Ukrainian sailors, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Russian-Ukrainian journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky.

“I am overflowing with happiness,” Natalya Mokryak, the mother of one of the sailors, told AFP at the airport. “I have finally seen this come true.”

Russian state television showed the Russian prisoners emerging from the plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo-2 airport used for government flights.

Among those handed over to Moscow was Vladimir Tsemakh — a fighter with Moscow-backed separatists considered a key witness in the downing of flight MH17 — despite pleas from the Netherlands.

Western leaders welcomed the exchange, with US President Donald Trump saying it could be “a first giant step to peace” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling it a “sign of hope”.

Anticipation had been building for the swap, which involved weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow nose-dived in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and Moscow backed separatists in the eastern industrial regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Fighting there has claimed more than 13,000 lives over the past five years.

Smiles and tears 

Zelensky’s election in April has raised hopes that a stalled peace process could be revived.

The comedian-turned-politician vowed during his campaign to have Ukrainian prisoners in Russia returned and has said ending the conflict with Russia is his top priority.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that the exchange would be “a huge step towards normalising relations” with Kiev.

Saturday’s swap was “very important”, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“It’s necessary to maintain this drive to solve problems as much as possible,” she said.

The release of filmmaker Sentsov will be seen as a major victory for Kiev. The 43-year-old was Ukraine’s most famous political prisoner and the subject of a star-studded international campaign calling for his release.

He was arrested in 2014 and had been serving a 20-year sentence in an Arctic penal colony for planning “terrorist attacks” in Crimea.

“I thank all the people who have fought for us,” Sentsov said at the airport in Kiev, where he was greeted by his teenage daughter who wept and smiled.

The sailors, including two members of Ukraine’s SBU security services, were detained last year when Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels off Crimea.

Moscow had wanted to put them on trial for violating Russia’s maritime borders.

The commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Admiral Igor Voronchenko, who also greeted the men in Kiev, broke into tears as he embraced one of the freed sailors.

MH17 witness handed over 

Among those handed over to Russia was Vyshynsky, a 52-year-old journalist at Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency.

The Russian-Ukrainian dual national was facing charges of “high treason” but was released on bail ahead of the swap.

The release of Tsemakh — who was reportedly in charge of air defence in the area where the MH17 came down — was a demand by Russia for the swap to go ahead, said Ivan Bakanov, the head of Ukraine’s SBU.

The Dutch government contacted Ukraine “several times and at the very highest level” in an effort to prevent Tsemakh’s handover, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said.

Blok said the authorities had the opportunity to question Tsemakh before he left for Russia but the Netherlands still profoundly regretted the outcome.

Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Russian-made missile in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, two-thirds of them Dutch.

Efforts have intensified to ease tensions between Moscow and Kiev since Zelensky’s election, with French President Emmanuel Macron calling for a summit of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany this month.

AFP