Sickly Navalny Transferred To Prison Hospital Following Western Pressure

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021. .
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Russia’s penitentiary service on Monday said it was transferring ailing Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to prison hospital, as the EU warned it would hold Moscow “responsible” for the state of his health.

The United States on Sunday threatened Russia with “consequences” if President Vladimir Putin’s major domestic opponent — who is on hunger strike — dies in jail after Navalny’s private doctors warned at the weekend he could pass away at “any minute”.

Russia’s prison authorities — which have barred Navalny’s own medical team from visiting him — said its doctors had decided to move him to a medical facility on the premises of another penal colony outside Moscow.

But the authorities insisted the jailed anti-corruption campaigner’s condition was “satisfactory”, and said he was taking vitamin supplements as part of medical treatment.

Fears over Navalny’s fate have added more fuel to soaring tensions between Moscow and the West over a buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine and a spiraling diplomatic row with EU member state the Czech Republic.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc held the Russian authorities “responsible for the health situation of Mr. Navalny” as foreign ministers from its 27 nations held virtual talks.

Borrell called his condition “very worrisome” and repeated demands that Moscow allows Navalny’s chosen team of doctors to inspect him.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis pushed further, saying the bloc should prepare “a humanitarian mission” to fly him out of Russia for treatment.

“If the international community does not respond, the regime’s opposition leader will be sent silently to his death,” Landsbergis said.

Navalny, 44, was arrested in Russia in January after returning from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he says was carried out by Moscow — accusations denied by Putin’s administration.

Sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for embezzlement, he began a hunger strike on March 31 demanding medical treatment for back pain and numbness to his hands and legs.

The EU in October sanctioned six Russian officials over the Novichok nerve agent attempt and in February sanctioned another four individuals over Navalny’s arrest and sentencing.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday those sanctions could be expanded.

Navalny’s supporters have called for a major protest across Russia on Wednesday to demand his release, hours after a state-of-the-nation address by Putin.

 

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defamation 
Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

 ‘Red lines’

The fraught ties with Russia were set to dominate the agenda as EU foreign ministers hold their regular monthly meetings.

The top diplomats were also holding talks with Kiev’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba over the major military buildup by Russia along Ukraine’s borders and surge in clashes with Russian-backed separatists.

Borrell described the situation on Ukraine’s frontiers as “very dangerous” and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops.

Kiev has been battling Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and fighting intensified early this year, effectively shredding a ceasefire agreed last July.

Faced with the largest deployment of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders since 2014, President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested more help from the West.

Lithuania’s Landsbergis insisted the bloc should show it is willing to impose sanctions if Moscow covers any more “red lines”.

European diplomats say that Poland is pushing for a green light to prepare a new round of sanctions targeting officials in the annexed Crimea peninsula over rights abuses.

EU foreign ministers are also set to be briefed on spiralling tensions between the Czech Republic and Russia.

Moscow on Sunday ordered out 20 Czech diplomats, a day after Prague announced it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats identified as secret agents of the SVR and GRU security services.

Czech authorities accused them of involvement in a deadly 2014 explosion on its soil at a military ammunition warehouse that killed two people.

Czech police said they were seeking two Russians in connection with the explosion and that the pair carried passports used by suspects in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018.

-AFP

Russia Bans Several US Officials As Tensions Escalate

 

A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and Russia President Vladimir Putin

 

Russia on Friday banned top officials from US President Joe Biden’s administration from entering the country as it announced a wave of tit-for-tat sanctions and expulsions of diplomats, as tensions soar between the rivals. 

Moscow nonetheless said it viewed the prospect of a summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin “positively.”

On Thursday, Washington had announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what it says is interference by the Kremlin in US elections, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.

READ ALSO: US Announces Sanctions Against Moscow, Expels 10 Russian Diplomats

Moscow issued a forceful response Friday, announcing that top US officials including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Biden’s chief Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, and FBI chief Christopher Wray would be banned from entering Russia.

Earlier Friday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Russia was responding to US sanctions in “a tit-for-tat manner” by asking ten US diplomats in Russia to leave the country while also expelling five Polish diplomats in response to a similar move by Warsaw.

Lavrov also said that Putin’s top foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, had recommended that US envoy John Sullivan leave for Washington to conduct “serious consultations.”

But Russia’s foreign ministry insisted that it viewed Biden’s proposal to hold a summit with Putin “positively”, adding that it was “currently under consideration”.

Biden’s offer earlier this week of a summit had amounted to a peace offering, as tensions between Russia and the West have escalated over the conflict in Ukraine and the new penalties levied by Washington.

The US penalties widened restrictions on US banks trading in Russian government debt and sanctioned 32 individuals accused of meddling in the 2020 US presidential vote.

Normalising ties

Biden had on Thursday described the new US sanctions against Russia as a “measured and proportionate” response.

In March, Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States back to Moscow for consultations on the future of US-Russia ties.

The rare move came after Biden said Putin would “pay a price” for alleged election-meddling and agreed with the assessment that Putin is a “killer”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday said Putin had long talked about the importance of normalising relations between Moscow and Washington.

“It is indeed good that the points of view of the two heads of state coincide on this,” he said.

But Peskov also blasted the new round of penalties imposed by Washington, saying America’s “addiction to sanctions remains unacceptable.”

The Kremlin spokesman noted that Putin had last month had suggested that he and Biden hold virtual talks, which did not materialise as Washington did not respond.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Friday offered his country as a venue for a possible Biden-Putin meeting.

Earlier this week Niinisto said he and Putin had spoken and the two discussed “the planned meeting” with Biden.

In recent weeks, Russia’s massing of troops on Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, and on the Crimean peninsula it annexed seven years ago, have contributed to the sharp escalation in tensions.

US forces in Europe have raised their alert status in response, while NATO has issued warnings to Moscow.

Sanctions relief

Analysts say that even though the US sanctions against Russia were the toughest in several years, they do not pose a threat to the Kremlin.

“The Russian market felt some relief,” the Renaissance Capital investment bank said in an analyst note Friday, because the sanctions were “moderate”.

Sanctions as a tool for punishing Moscow have become routine since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and fighting erupted between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Relations have plunged further more recently, with Washington accusing Moscow of interfering in its presidential elections in 2016 and 2020.

This year even before the recent alarm over the Ukraine conflict, tensions had ratcheted up sharply after the US slapped sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Ties then hit rock bottom last month after Biden, who promised to take a firmer line on Moscow than his predecessor Donald Trump, agreed with a description of Putin as a “killer”.

 

AFP

Finland Offers To Host Putin-Biden Summit

A file photo combination of Biden and Putin.

 

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has offered Finland as a host country for a possible meeting between US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Niinisto’s office said on Friday. 

“When it comes to this possible meeting, the readiness of Finland to organise it has been presented to both Washington and Moscow,” a spokesman for the Finnish President’s Office told AFP by email.

Finland previously hosted Putin and President Trump in Helsinki for the 2018 summit between the two leaders.

READ ALSO: Chauvin Chooses Not To Testify At George Floyd Murder Trial

Yet the decision to host the meeting came under criticism at the time from some in Finland who said it gave the impression that the Nordic country was neutral, rather than a Western power belonging to the EU.

The Finnish president has been a strong advocate of upholding a dialogue with the Kremlin and most recently had a phone call with president Putin on Tuesday, expressing “serious concern” over Russia’s troop movements along the border with Ukraine.

Biden proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart during a call on Tuesday, in order to discuss rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

AFP

Russian Prison Threatens To Force-Feed Navalny

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

Russian prison officials are threatening to start force-feeding jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, his team said Monday, after he lost eight kilograms (18 pounds) since starting a hunger strike.

“Seeing the seriousness of the hunger strike, the administration is threatening every day to start force-feeding,” Navalny’s team said in a post on his Twitter account.

It said Navalny, who last week said he had a cough and fever, had been transferred back to the prison barracks from its infirmary.

READ ALSO: DR Congo Starts Countdown To End Of Ebola Outbreak

“They are still not allowing a doctor to see him,” it said.

The 44-year-old opposition politician now weighed 77 kilograms (169 pounds), it said, down from 85 kilograms (187 pounds) when he started the hunger strike on March 31.

Navalny, who barely survived a poisoning with nerve agent Novichok last August, began refusing food in protest at what he said was a lack of proper medical treatment in prison for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

 

File photo: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement, stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow on February 2, 2021. Handout / Moscow City Court press service / AFP

 

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s best-known opponent, was arrested in mid-January when he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been treated for the poisoning, and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on old embezzlement charges in February.

Members of his defence team, who visited him in his penal colony in the town of Pokrov 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow last week, said he was also losing sensation in his hands.

Navalny’s lawyers and allies are demanding that he be transferred to a regular hospital. The Kremlin has said that Navalny is not entitled to any special treatment.

AFP

Russians Celebrate 60 Years Since Historic Gagarin Spaceflight

A technological duplicate of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s SK-1 spacesuit is seen on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics on April 9, 2021, days before an exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open to the public.
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Russia on Monday celebrated the 60th anniversary of the legendary flight that made Yuri Gagarin the first man in space, a major source of national pride for millions of his countrymen.

Russia’s space industry has struggled in recent years and been hit by a series of mishaps, but the sending of the first human into space on April 12, 1961 remains a crowning achievement of the Soviet space programme.

President Vladimir Putin was to travel Monday to the southern city of Engels on the banks of the Volga River, to the site of the cosmonaut’s landing where a memorial stands to honour the historic flight.

He was to be accompanied by Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut and the first woman in space.

 

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s boots and gloves, he used during his classes at an aeroclub, are seen on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics on April 9, 2021, days before an exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open to the public.
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

The day of Gagarin’s flight is celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day, and this year authorities are pulling out all the stops to mark the 60th anniversary, with round-the-clock television coverage, murals on high-rises and laser projections of Gagarin’s portrait.

For Moscow commuters, the morning started with a broadcast on the Metro of the original report by state news agency TASS about the launch, followed by Gagarin’s legendary words — “Poekhali!” (Let’s go) — as his Vostok spacecraft lifted off.

In a message from the International Space Station, the four Russians on board saluted “all earthlings” and hailed Gagarin’s accomplishment.

“Gagarin’s legendary 108-minute flight became an example of heroism for his successors, including us,” said cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky.

Vostok took off carrying the 27-year-old son of a carpenter and a dairy farmer from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union.

The flight lasted just 108 minutes, the time it took to complete one loop around the Earth.

Gagarin landed in a potato field in front of a five-year-old girl, Rita Nurskanova, and her grandmother.

In an interview with newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets for the anniversary, Nurskanova said that after seeing a flash of light and a spacesuit, her grandmother started to pray and wanted to run.

Gagarin calmed them down, saying he was human and “came from the sky,” she said. Then her grandmother helped him unfasten his helmet.

 

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok spacecraft’s landing capsule is seen on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics on April 9, 2021, days before an exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open to the public. 
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

 ‘Name that everyone knows’

Gagarin’s now-rusty Vostok capsule is on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics where a new exhibition dedicated to his achievement is set to open on Tuesday.

Visitors will be shown documents, photos and personal belongings, some dating back to Gagarin’s childhood and school years.

“This is probably the only surname that everyone knows, from four-year-old children to people over 80,” Vyacheslav Klimentov, a historian and the museum’s deputy director of research, told AFP.

Gagarin’s flight remains a symbol of the country’s dominance in space during the Soviet era. Four years before Gagarin, the USSR had become the first country to send a satellite into orbit, called Sputnik.

But the anniversary also comes at a difficult time for Russia’s space industry, which has suffered a number of setbacks in recent years, from corruption scandals to lost spacecraft to an aborted take-off during a manned mission in 2018.

Russia’s ageing Soyuz rockets are reliable and allow Moscow to remain relevant in the modern space industry, but the country is struggling to innovate and keep up with other key players.

 

A mock-up of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok spacecraft’s ejection seat is seen on display at Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics on April 9, 2021, days before an exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open to the public. 
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

In a major blow, Russia last year lost its monopoly for manned ISS launches after reusable rockets from Elon Musk’s Space X, carrying NASA astronauts, successfully docked at the space station.

In a video message on Monday, the head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, stressed that the USSR sent a man into space despite having lost “colossal resources” during World War II.

Rogozin has set a series of ambitious goals for Roscosmos in recent years despite funding cuts to the space programme.

He said that Russia was “on the cusp of very important changes” that will see next-generation spacecraft and lunar missions.

“We believe in our space, in Russian space,” he said.

-AFP

Jailed Navalny Losing Sensation In Hands Says Lawyer

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. Handout / Moscow's Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP
This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow.
Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP

 

 

The health of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is deteriorating as he keeps up his hunger strike in prison, with a new numbness in his hands, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Last Wednesday President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, who is serving two and a half years on embezzlement charges, launched a hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

Members of Navalny’s defence team, who visited him in his penal colony in the town of Pokrov 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow on Wednesday, said he is still refusing food and was coughing.

“He looks bad, he’s not feeling well,” lawyer Olga Mikhailova told AFP, adding Navalny now weighs “around 80” kilogrammes (176 pounds).

Navalny, who is 189 centimetres (six feet two inches) tall, weighed 93 kilogrammes (205 pounds) when he arrived in his penal colony last month.

“No one is going to treat him,” Mikhailova added.

Navalny’s lawyers and allies are demanding that he be transferred to a “normal” hospital but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Navalny is not entitled to any special treatment.

Another member of the opposition politician’s team, Vadim Kobzev, said that 44-year-old Navalny was losing a kilogramme a day.

Taking to Twitter, Kobzev said Navalny felt pain when he walked and was now also feeling a numbness in his hands in addition to back pain and a loss of sensation in his legs.

“It’s clear that his illness is getting worse,” Kobzev wrote.

Earlier this week, Navalny said he had a cough and fever and that three members of his prison unit had been hospitalised with tuberculosis.

Navalny was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he spent months recovering from a poisoning attack with Novichok nerve agent he blames on the Kremlin.

He is serving a two-and-a-half year sentence for breaching the parole terms of a suspended sentence on old fraud charges.

Rights campaigners say the Pokrov penal colony is known for its especially harsh conditions, and Navalny himself has called it a “concentration camp.”

Russia Extends Twitter Slowdown, Deadline To Remove Content

In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on May 27, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

 

Russia said Monday it was extending a deadline for Twitter to remove illegal content by a month to mid-May after the social media giant started cooperating when Russia slowed down its operations.

State telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor imposed slowdowns on Twitter’s services in mid-March, accusing it of failing to remove content related to child pornography, drug use and calls for minors to commit suicide.

The watchdog gave Twitter a month to remove the content or face a complete blockage in Russia.

The move raised concerns among Kremlin critics who fear the clampdown on Twitter and other social media is aimed at silencing opposition voices.

Roskomnadzor said in a statement on Monday that after the slowdown Twitter had deleted nearly 2,000 posts containing illegal content and was moving more quickly to take content down.

It said the slowdown measures would remain in place until May 15 but that a decision had been taken not to completely block Twitter because the US company had “for the first time” changed the way its content moderation service worked in Russia.

The statement said Roskomnadzor officials had spoken by videolink with Sinead McSweeney, Twitter’s vice president of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and the Africa region.

“Roskomnadzor will continue to cooperate with Twitter management until the social network completely deletes all banned information in the quickest possible manner,” the statement said.

After the slowdown began last month, Twitter denounced Russia’s attempts to “block and throttle online public conversation”.

The media giant said at the time it had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding “child sexual exploitation” and did not promote suicide and self-harm.

Russia has in recent months stepped up efforts to impose more control on online platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with President Vladimir Putin saying large tech companies have become so influential that they are “competing” with sovereign states.

Putin’s opponents say the efforts aim to stifle dissent, including by blocking efforts to organise protests in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Russia To Have Half-Full Stadium For Euro 2020 Games

France’s players (L) and Ukraine players line up prior the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match at the empty Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on March 24, 2021.
Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

 

Coronavirus restrictions will be “minimal” for Euro 2020 matches this summer at Saint Petersburg Stadium, which will be filled to 50 percent capacity, Russia’s tournament organising committee said Thursday.

The delayed European championship is set to take place across the continent between June 11 and July 11.

UEFA this month suggested it wanted spectators to attend matches and that any of the 12 host cities that banned fans could be dropped from the tournament.

“We are looking optimistically at the Euros. We already have an agreement to fill the stands to 50 percent capacity,” the Russian committee’s director Alexei Sorokin was cited by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

“We are working to welcome foreign supporters and this has not been rejected by the authorities,” he added, saying he was sure matches could be played “with the minimum of possible restrictions”.

Host cities have until April 7 to let UEFA know what their scenarios are in terms of attendance ahead of an executive committee meeting on April 19, on the eve of the federation’s annual congress in Montreux.

The Saint Petersburg Stadium has a capacity of 61,000 seats.

It is expected to host three Group B matches — Belgium v Russia, Finland v Russia and Finland v Belgium, as well as one quarter-final.

Russia has lifted nearly all epidemiological measures against the coronavirus, with health authorities saying that the worst of the pandemic passed over the winter.

The country did not reimpose a national lockdown when the second wave of infections surged in the fall, instead prioritising the economy.

Official data has shown that Russia has seen more than 200,000 virus-related deaths — double the daily count published by an official coronavirus tally.

Russia’s borders have been closed for about a year to almost all foreigners.

-AFP

‘Putin’s Chef’ Tells FBI To Remove Him From Wanted List

Russia Flag

 

Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin has written to the FBI demanding that it remove him from its wanted list, calling it a violation of human rights principles, his company said on Wednesday.

The FBI last month offered a $250,000 (210,000-euro) reward for Prigozhin, who was indicted by the United States three years ago for meddling in its 2016 presidential vote.

It said Prigozhin, who is nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because his company Concord has catered for the Kremlin, was wanted “for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to defraud the United States”.

In a statement on the social media network Vkontakte Wednesday, Concord said Prigozhin had written to the FBI director and posted a copy of the letter signed by Prigozhin and addressed to Christopher Wray on March 23.

“The FBI must immediately cease offering a monetary award to the public for my capture and delivery to the United States as this violates several principles of human rights under international law,” Prigozhin wrote.

The Concord statement also cited Prigozhin as saying: “Fraudsters are fraudulently trying to accuse me, a squeaky clean person, of fraud.”

READ ALSO: Croatia PM Receives AstraZeneca Jab To Dismiss Fears

In addition to Concord, Prigozhin is alleged to fund the Internet Research Agency, a so-called troll farm in Saint Petersburg reported to have waged an online campaign in support of then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 US election.

Prigozhin has also been linked to the Wagner private military group, which has been accused of sending mercenaries to conflicts throughout Africa and the Middle East.

In October, the European Union sanctioned Prigozhin on charges of undermining the peace in Libya by supporting the Wagner group.

AFP

Putin Slams Vaccine Criticism, To Get Jab On Tuesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the members of the Security Council via teleconference call, in Moscow, Russia on November 6, 2020. Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin on Monday dismissed foreign criticism of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and said he would get the jab himself on Tuesday.

Speaking at a televised meeting with health officials, the 68-year-old Russian leader described recent remarks in Europe questioning the need for the Russian vaccine as “strange”.

“We are not imposing anything on anyone… Whose interests are such people protecting — of pharmaceutical companies or the interests of citizens of European countries?”

“Vaccination is of course the voluntary choice of every person… By the way, I intend to do it myself tomorrow,” he said.

Russia has heavily promoted the state-sponsored vaccine abroad but it has been met with scepticism in the West and even by many in Russia.

Russia registered the vaccine in August, ahead of large-scale clinical trials, sparking concern among many experts over the fast-track process.

READ ALSO: French Minister Hospitalised With COVID-19

Later reviews have been largely positive, with leading medical journal The Lancet publishing results showing it safe and more than 90 percent effective.

“Despite the deliberate discrediting of our vaccine, more and more countries are showing interest in it,” Putin said.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said during the meeting that experts from the European Medicines Agency will travel to Russia on April 10 to review clinical trials conducted on the vaccine.

The Amsterdam-based EMA this month launched a rolling review of Sputnik V, a key step towards it being approved as the first non-Western coronavirus jab to be used across the 27-nation bloc.

– Vaccine scepticism –

On Sunday EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said Europe had “absolutely no need for Sputnik V,” sparking a fierce response from Moscow.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which backed the development of Sputnik, accused Breton of being “clearly biased” against the jab because it was Russian.

“Europeans want a choice of safe and efficient vaccines, which you so far failed to provide,” the RDIF said on Twitter.

It says that Sputnik V has been approved for use in 55 countries.

If Breton’s remarks were an official position of the EU,” it said, “please inform us that there is no reason to pursue EMA approval because of your political biases.”

More than four million Russians have received two doses of a vaccine, and more than six million people one dose, Putin said on Monday.

Many in Russia are sceptical about being vaccinated, with a poll earlier this month showing less than a third willing to have a jab, and close to two-thirds saying they believe that the coronavirus is a man-made biological weapon.

By Monday, Russia had registered more than 4.4 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 95,000 deaths.

US To Impose Sanctions On Russia For Navalny Poisoning: Report

This handout picture provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 12, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, standing inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) 

 

US President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to impose sanctions on Russia for the poisoning and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, CNN reported Monday.

Citing two administration officials, CNN wrote that the United States will coordinate with the European Union to determine what the sanctions will entail and their exact timing.

According to one official, a potential option is an executive order that would trigger sanctions on Russia for repeated attacks on US democracy, including the SolarWinds cybersecurity hack and placing bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan, CNN wrote.

The sanctions would be Biden’s first on Russia, and would be a marked departure from his predecessor Donald Trump’s approach to dealing with Moscow.

Trump was often accused of taking a soft line towards Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, particularly during their 2018 summit in Helsinki when he backed Putin’s claim that Moscow didn’t interfere in the 2016 US election — despite American intelligence agencies pointing to the contrary.

The European Union approved sanctions on four senior Russian officials earlier Monday, as UN human rights experts called earlier Monday for an international probe into Navalny’s poisoning and his immediate release.

The EU sanctions are on four justice and law enforcement officers involved in Navalny’s detention. The four are the first individuals to be targeted under the EU’s new human rights sanctions regime, which came into effect in December. They will be banned from travelling to the EU and any assets held there will be frozen.

Meanwhile, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, and Irene Khan, the top expert on freedom of opinion and expression, insisted on the need to ensure accountability for Navalny’s “sinister poisoning.”

They demanded his “immediate release” from a Russian penal colony, where he was transferred last week from a Moscow prison.

Navalny was jailed last month after returning to Moscow from Germany, where the 44-year-old had spent months recovering from a poisoning with a banned nerve agent he blames on Putin. The Kremlin denies it was behind the attack.

The imprisoning of Putin’s best-known opponent sparked nationwide protests that saw thousands of demonstrators detained and triggered calls in the West for Navalny’s release.

Russia Condemns US Strikes On Iran-Backed Groups In Syria

In this file US Navy handout image taken on October 4, 2014, two US Navy F-18E Super Hornets supporting operations against IS, are pictured after being refueled by a KC-135 Statotanker over Iraq after conducting an airstrike. At least 17 pro-Iran fighters were killed in US strikes in Syria at the Iraq border overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on February 26, 2021. PHOTO: US AIR FORCE / AFP

 

Russia on Friday condemned US strikes on Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria, demanding that Washington respect the country’s territorial integrity.

“We strongly condemn such actions and call for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to be unconditionally respected,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

Russia has been a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime throughout the Syrian conflict that erupted in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests, and Moscow’s military intervention in 2015 helped turn the tide of the war.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for his part, said Russia wanted to know Washington’s plans in Syria and suggested that the United States had no plans to ever leave the country.

READ ALSO: Head Of Russian Prisons Confirms Navalny Was Sent To Penal Colony

“Lately we’ve been hearing various information from various sources — so far we cannot confirm it and would like to ask the Americans directly,” Lavrov told reporters.

“Allegedly they are taking a decision to never leave Syria at all … up to the point of destroying this country.”

He said the Russian and US militaries were in touch over Syria but stressed it was important for the two countries’ political teams to be in contact.

“It is very important for us to understand the United States’ strategic line on the ground and in the region as a whole,” Lavrov said.

He also complained that the Russian military had been notified just four or five minutes before the US struck the targets on Thursday.

“This sort of warning — when strikes are already underway — gives (us) nothing,” Lavrov said.

Zakharova reiterated Russia’s long-standing position that Moscow rejected any attempts to turn Syria into “an arena to settle geopolitical scores”.

In its first military action against Iran-linked groups since Joe Biden became US president five weeks ago, the Pentagon said it had carried out air strikes on Thursday at a Syria-Iraq border control point used by Iran-backed groups.

The operation killed at least 22 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

AFP