Russian Teen Shcherbakova Dazzles To China Skating Gold

Anna Shcherbakova of Russia performs during the Ladies Free Skating at the ISU Grand Prix Cup of China figure skating event in China’s southwestern Chongqing on November 9, 2019.
STR / AFP

 

The 15-year-old Russian Anna Shcherbakova dazzled her way to gold at figure skating’s Cup of China on Saturday for her second victory in as many events in the ISU Grand Prix.

China’s Jin Boyang — sporting eye-catching gold-coloured blades on his skates — won the men’s title from compatriot Yan Han in Chongqing, the fourth round of the series.

Shcherbakova’s victory, to go with her triumph at Skate America last month in her Grand Prix debut, propelled her into the Grand Prix Final in Turin next month.

Shcherbakova led after Friday’s short programme and produced another flawless display — embellished by two quad Lutzes — to win the free skate.

She took the title with an overall 226.04 points to ensure that all four Grand Prix this season have now been won by Russian teenagers.

Silver went to Japan’s Satoko Miyahara with 211.18 points and bronze was won by another Russian, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, with 209.10.

“It’s a good start for my first senior season but I want to do better and work more,” said Shcherbakova, who effortlessly changed her blue costume to a red one mid-performance.

“I think it is not my maximum now,” she added.

“It was my goal to reach the Final and now I will work on my programmes, my jumps, and my goal will be to do everything cleaner and better.

“There are still mistakes.”

In the men’s, Jin trailed Yan after the short programme but leapfrogged his compatriot with the free skate to take gold with 261.53 points overall.

Yan won silver with 249.45 points and Italy’s Matteo Rizzo bronze with 241.88.

“I feel very satisfied today and my performance was as spicy as a Chongqing hotpot,” joked the 22-year-old Jin, referring to the famously fiery local cuisine.

“I hope my passion will inspire generations of skaters to come.”

In the ice dance, world silver medallists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, again of Russia, clinched gold and the first Grand Prix victory of their career.

They were second in Saturday’s free dance but their five-point lead after Friday’s rhythm dance ensured they remained in first place with 209.90 points overall.

Russian Anti-Doping Chief Attacks ‘Destructive’ Data Doctoring

Yuri Ganus, the director-general of the Russian anti-doping agency, attends a conference of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Katowice, Poland, on November 6, 2019./ AFP

 

Russia’s anti-doping tzar Yuri Ganus on Wednesday blasted the “irresponsible and destructive actions” of Moscow authorities he accuses of doctoring key data handed over to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Ganus told delegates at WADA’s world conference in Katowice that the anti-doping agency RUSADA he heads had become “a hostage to the crisis” triggered by the falsified information.

In September, WADA ordered Russia to explain “inconsistencies” in some of the thousands of files and samples handed over from its Moscow anti-doping laboratory in January.

Among delegates listening to Ganus’s speech was Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov, who earlier had assured the conference that RUSADA and Russian authorities had met all of WADA’s demands.

The data transfer was a key condition for Russia’s reinstatement by WADA in 2018 after the country was banned from competing in several international competitions over state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015.

WADA’s compliance arm is set to conclude its review of this latest twist in the Russian doping scandal by the end of the month.

Ganus stressed that RUSADA “had nothing to do with the database and its transfer” and that it had been a victim of “forces outside RUSADA”. He urged WADA to apply “wisdom” when imposing any sanctions in order to protect the independence of anti-doping agencies.

To applause, Ganus concluded a rousing address by telling the conference: “No one should use us (RUSADA) for their personal interests…We will protect our independence.”

In an interview with AFP last month Ganus said he expected Russia to be banned from next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, blaming unnamed Russian officials for doctoring the data handed over to WADA.

The best-case scenario, in his view, was very limited participation “by certain athletes, by invitation”, as happened at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Falling Rock Kills Russian Climber At Mountain Fuji

A tourist looks at Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, from Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi prefecture.  Behrouz MEHRI / AFP

 

A Russian national climbing Mount Fuji was killed by a falling rock near the summit of Japan’s highest peak, police and news reports said Monday.

Police said a woman in her 20s was fatally injured in the morning while approaching the top of the 3,776-metre (12,388-foot) volcanic mountain.

“Rescuers and a doctor rushed to the site but she was later confirmed dead,” a local police official told AFP.

Public broadcaster NHK and other local media identified her as a 29-year-old Russian national living in Tokyo with a Japanese husband.

Immediate confirmation of the victim’s identification was not available.

One of the routes to the summit was temporarily closed following the accident.

Every year hundreds of thousands of people — including many foreigners — climb Mount Fuji, which is regarded as a holy mountain in Japan.

The official climbing season runs from the start of July to the end of August.

Snow-capped for most of the year, the mountain’s summit is regarded as dangerous during the off-season due to its steep slopes and constant gusts.

The conical-shaped mountain, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of Tokyo, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.

AFP

UN Security Council Rejects Russian Bid To Hold Ukraine Meeting

UN Security Council meeting on September 26, 2018, in New York on the sidelines/ AFP

 

European countries backed by the United States on Monday blocked a Russian request to hold a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine’s new language law.

Russia failed to garner the nine votes required to hold the meeting, which was requested on the same day that Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky took office.

 

 

 

41 Believed Dead In Russian Plane Disaster

This handout picture taken and realeased on May 5, 2019, by the Investigative Committee of Russia shows a fire of a Russian-made Superjet-100 at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow. The Interfax agency reported that the plane, a Russian-made Superjet-100, had just taken off from Sheremetyevo airport on a domestic route when the crew issued a distress signal. At least one person died according to Russian agencies.
HO / RUSSIAN INVESTIGATIVE COMMITTEE / AFP

 

Forty-one people are believed to have died after a Russian passenger plane made an emergency landing at Moscow’s busiest airport and caught fire, investigators said on Sunday.

“There were 78 people including crew members on board the plane,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

“According to the updated info which the investigation has as of now, 37 people survived.”

AFP

Body Of Pilot Found After Two Russian Fighter Jets Collide

File Photo
Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP

 

A rescue operation in the Russian Far East found the body of one pilot and rescued another after two fighter jets collided over the Sea of Japan during a training flight on Friday, Russian media reported.

Russian news agencies quoted the ministry as saying that the body of one pilot was found “without any sign of life.”

The Russian Su-34 bombers touched in mid-air and fell into the sea near the Strait of Tartary, which separates Russia’s Sakhalin island from the mainland, according to the country’s Investigative Committee.

The committee also said it had opened a criminal investigation into the case.

The accident took place during a scheduled training exercise 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the shore in Russia’s Far East, Russian news agencies reported citing the defence ministry.

According to Russian media, the pilots were able to eject from their jets.

Russia’s television channel Zvezda, run by the defence ministry, earlier reported that one of the pilots was evacuated by air to the city of Khabarovsk.

It cited a ministry source as saying that the pilot’s health was “satisfactory”.

The number of missing pilots has not been confirmed. Russian media initially reported that two pilots had been rescued, but later cited authorities as saying that only one pilot had been found.

According to Zvezda, an ongoing rescue operation continued in severe weather conditions on Friday involving six ships, three helicopters and three planes.

Neither of the jets carried munitions.

Russia Detains Model Claiming Trump Secrets

Detained Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich (C) known by her pen name Nastya Rybka leaves Thai immigration department in Bangkok. Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP

 

Russia on Thursday detained a Belarusian model who claimed she had evidence of Russian efforts to help Donald Trump win office, witnesses told AFP.

Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen-name Nastya Rybka, was held for questioning at a Moscow airport on Thursday evening after she was deported from Thailand as part of a group convicted of participating in a “sex training course,” other passengers on the flight told AFP.

Russian authorities detained her and several others including Alex Kirillov, a self-styled Russian seduction guru, witnesses said.

Plain-clothes officials led away four of the group including Vashukevich and Kirillov, a woman who gave her name as Kristina told AFP after emerging at Sheremetyevo airport arrivals.

Describing herself as Kirillov’s wife, Kristina said she heard the group shouting and asking for an explanation of “why they were being detained” and saying they were suspected of recruiting for prostitution, a crime punishable by up to six years in jail.

A law enforcement source told TASS state news agency that four including Vashukevich and Kirillov were detained at the airport over recruiting for prostitution.

Vashukevich was held with several others in a police raid last February in the sleazy seaside resort of Pattaya.

Between salacious and bizarre 

In a case that veered between salacious and bizarre, Vashukevich said she had travelled to Thailand after becoming embroiled in a political scandal with Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska — a one-time associate of Trump’s disgraced former campaign director Paul Manafort.

She then set tongues wagging by promising to reveal “missing puzzle pieces” regarding claims the Kremlin aided Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory.

But the material never surfaced and critics dismissed the claims as a publicity stunt.

In the risque Pattaya seminar led by Kirillov, some participants wore shirts that said “sex animator” — though one person at the time described it as more of a romance and relationship course.

Vashukevich pleaded guilty alongside seven others to multiple charges, including solicitation and illegal assembly at a Pattaya court on Tuesday, which ordered the group be deported.

Kirillov, who has served as a quasi-spokesman for the mostly Russian group, told reporters as they arrived at court Tuesday that he believed they were set up.

“I think somebody ordered (our arrest)… for money,” he said.

Vashukevich looked somber as she entered the courthouse and did not respond to questions from the media.

The book about seducing oligarchs 

On Thursday afternoon, Vashukevich and the majority of the convicted were put on an Aeroflot flight for Moscow, bringing to an end the Thai side of a baffling case.

Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said the last of the group would leave the country later that evening.

They were also blacklisted from returning to Thailand.

It was unclear what would happen to them on arrival in Moscow but as a Belarusian citizen, Vashukevich was expected to transit to Belarus.

Vashukevich, who has more than 120,000 followers on Instagram and penned a book about seducing oligarchs, already faces legal problems in Russia.

Deripaska won an invasion of privacy lawsuit against her and Kirillov in July after a video apparently filmed by the model showed the tycoon vacationing with an influential Russian deputy prime minister at the time.

“I don’t think she wants to get out in Moscow,” a Russian friend in Thailand who helped with the case told AFP on Thursday.

Both Washington and Moscow publicly shrugged off Vashukevich’s story, which the US State Department described as “bizarre”.

Kremlin-connected Deripaska and Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager, did business together in the mid-2000s.

Manafort has since been convicted in the US of financial crimes related to political work he did in Ukraine before the 2016 election as well as witness tampering.

AFP

EU To Sanction Salisbury Chemical Attack Suspects

    The suspected Russian agents. Credit: @heartwiltsnews

The EU is to slap sanctions on two suspected Russian agents accused of carrying out a deadly nerve agent attack in the British city of Salisbury, officials told AFP Thursday.

Foreign ministers from the bloc will formally sign off on restrictive measures against nine individuals and one entity at a meeting on Monday, as part of the EU’s new sanctions regime aimed at punishing those who use chemical weapons in breach of international treaties.

Several diplomatic sources confirmed to AFP that the nine will include the two men blamed for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city in March last year using the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok.

The two men, who claimed to be tourists but have been identified by the Bellingcat investigative group as decorated agents for Russia’s GRU military intelligence called Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, were hit with sanctions by the US in December.

The EU is to sanction two more Russians as well, along with five Syrians, in the first listings made under the new mechanism, which was introduced in October following the Skripal attack.

“It will be the first time there is a listing related to violations of international obligations under the OPCW and that will involve listing nine persons and one entity,” a senior EU official said, adding “they are obviously very naughty people”.

The Salisbury attack, the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II, caused an international outcry and prompted a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats by Western nations.

The Skripals survived the attack but a woman died in June after her partner picked up a discarded perfume bottle that British investigators believe was used to carry the Novichok.

Moscow denies involvement in the poisoning and has offered numerous and varied alternative explanations and counter-accusations.

AFP

Russian Gas Blast: Death Toll Jumps To 38

 

The number of dead from a New Year’s Eve gas explosion in a Russian apartment block jumped to 38 on Thursday as rescuers recovered more bodies from the rubble of the partially collapsed building.

Russian news agencies quoted the emergencies ministry as saying a 38th body had been recovered, leaving only three people unaccounted for.

Rescuers have been braving temperatures as low as minus 27 degrees Celsius (minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit) to search through mangled concrete and metal at the site in the Ural mountains city of Magnitogorsk.

Six people including two children have been rescued at the site, but no survivors have been found since Tuesday when a 10-month-old boy was retrieved in what officials described as a “New Year’s miracle”.

The explosion tore through the 10-storey building in the industrial city nearly 1,700 kilometres (1,050 miles) east of Moscow in the early hours of Monday.

The Soviet-era block was home to about 1,100 people and the explosion destroyed 35 apartments, leaving dozens homeless.

The emergencies ministry said work was continuing at the site on Thursday, with nearly 900 people involved in rescue and recovery efforts.

A bridge had been built to reach higher areas and one of the building’s walls was taken down as it was threatening to collapse on rescue workers.

Financial help for victims

On Thursday, residents of other parts of the building were to be allowed to enter their apartments, in half-hour stretches, to recover some belongings, the ministry said.

All the survivors were in a stable condition, said the office of Chelyabinsk regional governor Boris Dubrovsky, who visited several of them in hospital on Thursday.

The health ministry also said that Vanya, the baby boy rescued on Tuesday, was recovering in hospital.

His condition was “stable, with some improvement”, Russian news agencies quoted the ministry as saying.

The boy was found in his cradle after rescuers heard him crying from under the rubble. He was brought to his mother, who had survived the blast and then flown to Moscow for treatment.

Dubrovsky’s office said the governor had approved new financial assistance to the victims, including payments of one million rubles ($14,500, 12,700 euros) to the families of those killed and 400,000 rubles for those injured.

Families who lost their apartments would receive payments of up 500,000 rubles, as well as being provided with new homes.

Financial assistance was also to be provided to help pay for funerals, the first six of which were to be held on Friday, the governor’s office said.

The explosion, which officials have said was likely caused by a gas leak, happened as most of the building’s residents were asleep.

Witnesses described a “wave of fire” and said the blast was strong enough to shatter windows in nearby buildings.

Investigators have launched a probe, but have said there is no reason to suspect foul play.

Gas explosions are relatively common in Russia, where much of the infrastructure dates back to the Soviet era and safety requirements are often ignored.

Located in the mineral-rich southern Urals, Magnitogorsk, with a population of more than 400,000, is home to one of Russia’s largest steel producers.

Ex-Cop Jailed For 56 More Murders In Russia

Serial killer Mikhail Popkov sits inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Irkutsk on December 10, 2018. Anton KLIMOV / AFP

 

A Russian court on Monday found a former policeman guilty of 56 murders, while he is already serving a life sentence for killing 22 women, making him one of Russia’s most prolific serial killers.

The court in the Siberian city of Irkutsk found Mikhail Popkov “guilty of killing 56 people between 1992 and 2007,” Irkutsk regional prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Prosecutors said Popkov “has a pathological attraction to killing people.” He was also found guilty of raping 10 of the victims.

He received a second life sentence on top of the one he is already serving and was also formally deprived of his pension as an ex-policeman.

Popkov in 2015 was found guilty of killing 22 women. He later confessed to 59 further murders but was convicted only of 56 on Monday because the investigators had not managed to prove three of the crimes took place, Interfax news agency reported citing the court’s press service.

He killed his victims after offering them rides late at night, sometimes in a police car, while he was off-duty around his home city of Angarsk near Irkutsk.

The number of killings for which he has been convicted exceeds the total of several notorious murderers in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union.

“Chessboard killer” Alexander Pichushkin was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for 48 murders and Andrei Chikatilo was convicted of 52 Soviet-era murders.

AFP

Trump To Cancel Meeting With Putin Over Russia-Ukraine Clash

US President Donald Trump has said he may cancel a long-awaited summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin after a confrontation at sea between Russia and Ukraine led Kiev to warn of the threat of “full-scale war”.

Trump is scheduled to meet Putin at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of this week but warned it would depend on the results of a report being prepared by his national security advisers about Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships.

“Maybe I won’t have the meeting. Maybe I won’t even have the meeting,” he told the Washington Post on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko earlier warned that the standoff could herald more drastic developments as tensions escalate between the ex-Soviet neighbors.

“I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games. Ukraine is under threat of full-scale war with Russia,” Poroshenko said.

The number of Russian units deployed along the Ukraine-Russian border has “grown dramatically” while the number of Russian tanks has tripled, Poroshenko said, citing intelligence reports but giving no precise timescale for the buildup.

He spoke after Russian forces seized three of Kiev’s ships off the coast of Crimea on Sunday and captured 24 Ukrainian sailors.

On Tuesday, a court in Simferopol, the main city in Russian-annexed Crimea, ordered 12 of the sailors to be held in pre-trial detention for two months. Three hospitalized sailors were also formally detained for two months. The rest are to appear in court on Wednesday.

The move stoked already high tensions between Moscow and Kiev, as Russia continues to accuse the sailors of crossing illegally into Russian waters and of ignoring warnings from its border guards.

Kiev has demanded the release of the sailors and urged Western allies to impose further sanctions on Moscow.

The US State Department has termed Russia’s actions “a dangerous escalation” and said Washington wants to see “our European allies doing more to assist Ukraine.”

Putin warns of ‘reckless acts’ 

The incident was the first major confrontation at sea in the long-running conflict pitting Ukraine against Moscow and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east.

It has raised fears of a wider escalation — in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014 — and prompted international calls for restraint.

Putin on Tuesday warned Ukraine against any “reckless acts” after Kiev declared martial law in response to Moscow’s seizure of the navy vessels.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday voted in favor of Poroshenko’s request for the introduction of martial law in border areas for 30 days.

This gives Ukrainian authorities the power to mobilize citizens with military experience, regulate the media and restrict public rallies in affected areas.

In a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday, Putin expressed “serious concern” over its introduction.

He said he hoped Berlin could intervene with Ukrainian authorities “to dissuade them from further reckless acts”.

Moscow has accused Kiev of planning Sunday’s confrontation as a provocation aimed at drumming up support for Poroshenko ahead of elections next year and convincing Western governments to impose further sanctions on Russia.

Putin said Kiev’s actions were “clearly taken in view of the election campaign in Ukraine”.

Sunday’s incident has been playing out on Russian and Ukrainian television screens, with dramatic footage of Russian ships chasing down a Ukrainian tugboat that was trying to pass through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov.

 Sailors on Russian TV 

Russian state television has aired footage of some of the captured sailors being questioned by Moscow’s security services.

One of them is heard saying “the actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocatory character” — parroting the version of events put forward by Russian authorities.

Ukraine’s naval commander, Igor Voronchenko, said the sailors were pressured into giving false evidence.

“I know these sailors, they were always professional. What they are saying now is not true,” he told Ukrainian media.

Western governments have rallied behind Kiev in the dispute, accusing Russia of illegally blocking access to the Sea of Azov and of taking military action without justification.

The European Union, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and others expressed support for Kiev on Monday, in statements pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia denounced as “predictably anti-Russian”.

The foreign minister of Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said Tuesday that the bloc will next month consider further sanctions against Moscow over the flare-up.

“Everything depends on the accounts of events and the actions of both sides. But it will need to be reviewed,” Karin Kneissl told reporters.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for “maximum restraint,” urging both sides “to take steps without delay to contain this incident and reduce tensions”.

AFP

Finland Summons Russian Ambassador Over GPS Blocking Claims

Ambassador Pavel Kuznetsov

 

Finland has summoned Russia’s ambassador to answer allegations that Moscow was behind the jamming of GPS signals in Lapland during recent NATO exercises, the foreign ministry in Helsinki confirmed Saturday.

Ambassador Pavel Kuznetsov “has been invited to the ministry on Monday to discuss the GPS issue,” spokeswoman Hanna Paivarinta told AFP.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila has said the jamming of GPS satellite signals in the Arctic region had put civil aviation at risk.

The jamming coincided with Trident Juncture 18, NATO’s biggest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, held several hundred kilometres (miles) from Norway’s border with Russia from October 25 to November 7.

Prior to the manoeuvres, Russia had vowed to “retaliate”, calling the exercises “anti-Russian”.

On Thursday, Finland said it stood behind Norway’s assessment that Russian ground forces in the Kola peninsula, close to the border with Norway and Finland, were responsible for jamming the signals.

“The source of the interference is obvious to us, and Norway has the same experience,” Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini told the national news agency STT during a visit to Washington on Friday.

“When the time comes for reaction and dialogue, we will have those conversations, but not in public,” Soini added.

Russia has denied the allegation as “baseless”.

The disruption led to Finnish and Norwegian civil airspace operators issuing warnings to pilots that navigation signals in northeast Lapland were unstable.

In September 2017, Norwegian authorities reported jammed GPS signals affecting civil flights in the north of the country during Russia’s large Zapad military exercise.

“The foreign ministry has on several occasions in the past raised the question with Russian authorities,” Norway’s defence ministry said at the time.

AFP