Iran-US Tension: Putin, Erdogan Call For Restraint

The leaders of Russia and Turkey called for restraint in the escalating crisis between Iran and the United States, following a meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday. 

“We believe that exchange of attacks and use of force by any party do not contribute to finding solutions to the complex problems in the Middle East,” said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a joint statement written in English.

“We express our commitment to de-escalate the existing tensions in the region and call on all parties to act with restraint as well as commonsense and to prioritize diplomacy,” they added.

AFP

Soleimani’s Killing Risks ‘Aggravating’ Mideast Situation – Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. AFP

 

The killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US strike on Baghdad threatens to inflame the situation in the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday.

“This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region,” the Kremlin quoted him as saying during a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Meanwhile, the world has reacted with alarm to the development, with many governments appealing for restraint.

Although, the attack was praised by US President Donald Trump’s Republicans and close ally Israel, but elsewhere there were sharp warnings it could inflame regional tensions.

Following are some of the reactions from around the world:

 ‘Terminated’ 

US President Donald Trump said Soleimani was “terminated” when he was on the verge of attacking US diplomats but insisted that Washington is not seeking to topple Iran’s government.

But among Democrats, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the killing risks provoking a “dangerous escalation of violence”.

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” his 2020 presidential rival Joe Biden said.

 ‘Cannot afford another war’ 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of the need to avoid war in the Gulf.

“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

 ‘Remain calm’ 

“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”

He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.

‘Spark a devastating war’ 

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the US strike, which also killed an Iraqi commander, would “spark a devastating war”.

“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” he said.

It was a “flagrant violation of the conditions authorising the presence of US troops” on Iraqi soil, he added.

‘Cycle of violence’ 

“The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped before it spirals out of control,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

“The EU calls on all the actors involved and on those partners who can have an influence to exercise maximum restraint and show responsibility in this crucial moment.”

 ‘Will not be forgotten’ 

The Syrian regime condemned the killing and heaped praise on the Iranian general.

The Syrian people “will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

 ‘Avoid aggravating situation’ 

Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia cautioned against “anything that could aggravate the situation” while the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Qatar also called for “restraint.”

The Jordanian foreign ministry also called for efforts to be  made to avoid an escalation.

 ‘Meting out punishment’

“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a statement.

“We will carry a flag on all battlefields and all fronts and we will step up the victories of the axis of resistance with the blessing of his pure blood.”

 ‘Threaten peace and stability’ 

“Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region,” the foreign ministry said.

“Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity are the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, which should be adhered to. It is also important to avoid unilateral actions and use of force.”

The foreign ministry in neighbouring India said: “We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world.”

 ‘Against foreign intervention’ 

“It is manifest that the operation carried out by the US will increase insecurity and instability in the region… Turkey has always been against any foreign intervention in the region, assassinations and sectarian conflicts,” the foreign ministry said.

‘Act with restraint’ 

French President Emmanuel Macron urged restraint after Soleimani’s killing.

In his telephone call with Putin, Macron said there should be no “new dangerous escalation of tensions” and “called on all the parties to act with restraint,” the Elysee said.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said London had “always recognised the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”

AFP

Russia, China Launch ‘Historic’ Gas Pipeline

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) speaks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin via a video link, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 2, 2019. Noel CELIS / POOL / AFP

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday launched the first gas pipeline linking the two countries.

The mammoth Power of Siberia pipeline connecting the world’s top gas exporter and its largest energy importer crowns years of tough negotiations and work in difficult conditions.

“Today is remarkable, a truly historic event not only for the global energy market, but first of all for us and for you, for Russia and China,” Putin said during a televised ceremony featuring the two leaders.

Xi said the project “serves as a model of… mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries.”

“The development of Sino-Russian ties is and will be a foreign policy priority for both our nations,” Xi said on Russian television in translated remarks.

Alexei Miller, head of Russian gas giant Gazprom which championed the project, said nearly 10,000 people had worked to build the enormous pipeline.

During the ceremony Miller was shown ordering workers to open a valve allowing gas to pass across the border into China.

“Gas is going to the pipeline system of the Chinese People’s Republic,” he said.

The 3,000-kilometre (1,850-mile) pipeline runs from remote regions of eastern Siberia to Blagoveshchensk on the border, then into China.

Russia and China signed a 30-year, $400 billion deal to build and operate the pipeline in 2014, after a decade of difficult talks. It was Gazprom’s biggest contract.

The company is to supply China with 38 billion cubic metres (1.3 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually when the pipeline is fully operational in 2025.

Gazprom has stressed that the pipeline ran through “swampy, mountainous, seismically active, permafrost and rocky areas with extreme environmental conditions”.

Russia is also planning to soon launch two more gas pipelines that will ramp up supplies to Europe while bypassing Ukraine.

TurkStream, which Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan hope to launch in January, is to transport Russian gas to Turkey.

Nord Stream-2, which would double Russian gas volumes to Germany, is expected to go online in mid-2020.

More to follow…

Syria: ‘Think Carefully’, Putin Warns Erdogan

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 26, 2018. SERGEI KARPUKHIN / POOL / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday urged his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “think carefully” before any offensive in Syria, the Kremlin said in a statement. 

“Putin called on his Turkish partners to think carefully about the situation so as not to harm overall efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis,” the presidency said following a call between the two leaders and ahead of news of the launch of an offensive.

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

Trump Jokes With Putin: Don’t Meddle In Elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019.
Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Much of Donald Trump’s time in office has been overshadowed by allegations Moscow helped get him elected, but when it came to confronting Vladimir Putin on the issue, the US President did it in a joke.

“Don’t meddle in the election, president, don’t meddle,” Trump said with a smile, wagging his finger playfully at the Russian leader as the pair held talks in Osaka on Friday, on the sidelines of the G20.

Putin said nothing but grinned in response to the comment, which came only after a reporter shouted a question, asking whether Trump would warn his Russian counterpart about influencing the presidential vote next year.

The meeting was the first time the two leaders have held face-to-face talks since a controversial meeting last year in Helsinki.

Trump has been dogged throughout his presidency by allegations of suspicious ties to Russia.

A major probe led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller found there was an organised Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election won by Trump.

It found contacts between Russian operatives and Trump’s election campaign, but no evidence of a joint plot, and the US leader has characterised the findings as exonerating him.

Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Trump brushed aside questions from reporters about what they would discuss.

“What I say to him is none of your business,” he said at the White House.

But on Friday Trump said the pair would be discussing “trade… some disarmament, a little protectionism perhaps.”

“A lot of very positive things are going to come out of the relationship,” he predicted, to smiles from Putin.

“I cannot but agree with Mr. President,” the Russian leader said.

Putin Signs Controversial Internet Law

Russian President Vladimir Putin / AFP

 

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed into law a “sovereign internet” bill which will allow Russian authorities to isolate the country’s internet, a move decried by rights groups. 

Russian lawmakers insist the new law is necessary to ensure the security of Russia’s online networks but critics say the vaguely worded bill gives new censorship powers to government monitors.

The text of the law was published Wednesday but it will not come into effect until November.

READ ALSO: May Day: Police Clash With Marching Protesters In Paris

The measures include creating technology to monitor internet routing and to steer Russian internet traffic away from foreign servers, ostensibly to prevent a foreign country from shutting it down.

The authors of the initiative say Russia must ensure the security of its networks after US President Donald Trump unveiled a new American cybersecurity strategy last year that said Russia had carried out cyber attacks with impunity.

Thousands of people recently rallied in Russia against this and other bills that critics say aim to restrict information and communication online.

Separately, Putin in March signed controversial laws that allow courts to fine and briefly jail people for showing disrespect towards authorities, and block media for publishing “fake news”.

The laws are part of an ongoing Kremlin clampdown on media and internet freedoms that has seen people jailed for sharing humorous memes.

Last week 10 international rights organisations called on Russia to scrap the internet bill.

“The bill created a system that gives the authorities the capacity to block access to parts of the Internet in Russia,” said a statement backed by Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and others.

The blocking would be “extrajudicial and non-transparent,” the statement said.

Under the new law, Russian Internet access providers will also need to ensure that their networks have the technical means for “centralized traffic control” to counter potential threats.

This control will pass notably to the Russian FSB security service and the telecoms and media monitoring agency Roskomnadzor, which is often accused of arbitrarily blocking content on the web.

In recent years Russian authorities have blocked online sites and content linked to the opposition, as well as internet services which fail to cooperate with them, including the Dailymotion video platform, the Linkedin online social networking site, and the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

AFP

Putin Meets Erdogan Over S-400 Missile Deal Amid US Concern

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) ahead of a meeting at The Kremlin in Moscow on April 8, 2019. Maxim SHIPENKOV / POOL / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart on Monday discussed a missile deal slammed by the US as well as closer military cooperation during a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Moscow.

The two sides must “strengthen cooperation in the military-technical sphere,” Putin told Erdogan as they met in the Kremlin.

“This regard first of all the completion of the contract to supply S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to Turkey,” he said.

READ ALSO: May To Meet Merkel, Macron Ahead Of Crucial Brexit Summit

“There are other promising projects on the agenda related to the supply of modern Russian military products to Turkey,” Putin added.

NATO member Turkey’s missile deal has tested its already soured relations with Washington.

The US has put a freeze on its joint F-35 fighter jet programme with Turkey in protest.

Last week, US acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he was confident Turkey would drop the plan and buy the US Patriot system instead.

Erdogan has said the S-400s are needed to protect Turkey’s borders. He said he turned to Russia because no acceptable US missile deal was available at the time.

The first S-400 delivery is expected in July.

The pair also discussed Syria, where they have backed opposite sides in the eight-year conflict but have been working closely to end the fighting.

Putin said they were unable to reach an agreement to set up a monitoring centre in Syria’s jihadist-held Idlib region, agreed at a summit in Sochi in February.

“We have so far not been able to create the monitoring centre,” Putin said. “But I am sure that we will do this.”

Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and rebel backer Turkey in September inked a buffer zone deal to prevent a massive regime offensive on the Idlib region, near the Turkish border.

On Sunday, 13 civilians died in a bombing in Idlib.

Along with Iran, Russia and Turkey have positioned themselves as key foreign players in Syria’s long-running war.

Erdogan is on his third visit to Russia since the beginning of this year.

AFP

Again, Russia Denies Meddling In US Elections

Putin 'Ultimately' Responsible For Spy Poisoning, UK Claims
Russian President Vladimir/ AFP

 

The Kremlin on Monday reiterated denials that Moscow interfered in the 2016 US presidential election after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report found conclusive evidence of Russian meddling.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists he had not seen the report but Russia’s “principled position on this matter is well known: our country has not interfered in the domestic affairs of other countries, including the United States.”

READ ALSO: Special Counsel Mueller Clears Trump Of Conspiring With Russia

Peskov insisted “the accusations of interference… that are still being made against Russia, we as before consider to be baseless.”

Mueller’s two-year investigation found Russia carried out a coordinated campaign of disinformation and hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s election team. The report, however, did not find that Donald Trump’s campaign team colluded with Moscow.

In Russia, pro-Kremlin lawmakers hailed the report as vindicating both Russia and Trump but were cautious on whether this would prompt a revival in relations.

The report’s findings “are a disgrace for the US and its political elite,” Senator Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter.

“There’s a chance to start a lot again from zero in our relations, but whether Trump will take the risk is still under question. We, of course, are ready,” Konstantin Kosachev, foreign affairs committee chair in the upper house of parliament, wrote on Facebook.

The foreign affairs chief in the lower house, Leonid Slutsky, told journalists the report’s findings “are hardly capable of changing anything immediately in the dialogue between Russia and the US,” RIA Novosti state news agency reported.

AFP

Putin At G20 Denounces ‘Vicious’ Sanctions

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) is welcomed by Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri at Costa Salguero in Buenos Aires during the G20 Leaders’ Summit, on November 30, 2018. 
Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denounced the “vicious” use of sanctions and trade protectionism, in a veiled swipe at Donald Trump at a G20 summit.

“A vicious practice of returning to illegal, unilateral sanctions and protectionist measures is spreading, going around the UN Charter, the rules of the WTO and internationally recognized legal norms,” Putin told leaders of emerging economies as the summit opened in Buenos Aires.

AFP

Italy’s PM Conte Praises ‘Robust’ Economy On Russia Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 24, 2018. Sergei CHIRIKOV / POOL / AFP

 

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday boasted of the “robust” Italian economy during a visit to Moscow as his government is crossing swords with Brussels over Rome’s 2019 budget.

“Let’s be certain that the fundamentals of our economy are strong, our economy is robust and we only need to go forward. The government will do its part” to help businesses, Conte told an Italian-Russian business council in Moscow.

“We are the second manufacturing power in Europe, we are probably the country which has the strongest fabric of micro and small businesses, and we are proud of this,” he said.

The populist prime minister, who visits Russia just days after his far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, also met President Vladimir Putin Wednesday and invited him to visit Italy.

“We have a great team — the government, the institutions, the businessmen, the workers. We have to play as a team,” he said.

“In the (2019) budget, we pay attention also to the decrease of taxes, because we take into account that cost of labour in Italy has increased over time and weighs on our competitiveness,” he said, adding that Italy should “hold all the cards to free its potential.”

The populist coalition in Italy on Tuesday denied any modification to its next year budget despite the rejection of the document by the European Commission, an unprecedented move in the history of the European Union.

Salvini, head of the far-right Ligue and a strongman in the coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) on Wednesday dug his heels on the budget.

“They would want us to cut the funds for health, for disability, for the right to education,” he told Italian radio station RTL. “There’s no way. If they continue inflicting random blows, it makes me want to give the Italian people more money.”

AFP

Kremlin Ready To Discuss Putin-Trump Summit In US Next Year

File photo: Aleksey NIKOLSKYI / Sputnik / AFP

 

The Kremlin said Wednesday it was ready to discuss the possibility of a summit in Washington next year between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Donald Trump.

“Undoubtedly (we are) ready,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists after US National Security Advisor John Bolton told Russia’s Interfax news agency that such a summit was possible.

He confirmed that the issue has been “raised” but that “so far there is no concrete decision on this.”

The Kremlin is preparing for a “possible meeting” between the two leaders at an event in Paris on November 11 commemorating the centenary of the end of World War I, Peskov said.

Bolton arrived in Moscow on Sunday evening and held talks with Putin and other Russian officials. He said at a press conference that Trump wished to meet Putin at the World War I commemorations.

The US official told Interfax in an interview published Wednesday that Washington expected the two leaders to discuss in Paris a possible summit in Washington next year, after which Trump could visit Moscow.

Bolton’s visit came just after Trump announced that the US would pull out of a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty.

Asked whether the Kremlin wanted to continue discussions with the US on the treaty, Peskov said that “as far as we understand the American side has taken the decision and is formalising in the near future the process of withdrawing from this treaty.”