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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Monday spoke to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for the first time since last week’s downing of a Russian military plane, telling him of Moscow’s plan to deliver a new S-300 air defense system to the Syrian army.
In the phone call, initiated by Assad, Putin spoke of “additional measures to ensure the safety of Russian troops in Syria and to reinforce the country’s air defense system, which includes the delivery of the modern S-300 systems,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday showed off his marksmanship by testing out a new Kalashnikov sniper rifle and hitting the target more than half the time.
Russian state television showed Putin in goggles and earphones crouching as he fired the silver rifle at the Kalashnikov company’s shooting range outside Moscow.
“The target is set up practically at the maximum distance,” Rossiya 24 television reported, saying that Putin appeared to be pressing the trigger while holding his breath and between heartbeats as professional snipers are supposed to do.
Putin “shot five times and hit the target more than half the time” the television channel reported.
Russian defence ministry channel TV Zvezda reported the semi-automatic weapon Putin fired is “an ultra-modern rifle for Russian snipers”.
Putin was visiting a military-themed park called Patriot in the Moscow region where he laid the foundation stone for a Russian Orthodox Church.
Kalashnikov, known for the iconic AK-47 assault rifle, last month surprised observers by unveiling the prototype for a retro-styled electric car.
Britain said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “ultimate” responsibility for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in England, as it prepared to brief the UN Security Council.
London has accused two members of Russian military intelligence of using Novichok to try to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southwestern city of Salisbury.
Security Minister Ben Wallace said Putin bore ultimate responsibility for the poisoning.
“Ultimately he does in so far as he is the president of the Russian Federation and it is his government that controls, funds and directs the military intelligence, the GRU, via his ministry of defence.”
He told BBC radio: “I don’t think anyone can ever say that Mr Putin isn’t in control of his state…. And the GRU is without doubt not rogue.
“It is led, linked to both the senior members of the Russian general staff and the defence minister, and through that into the Kremlin and the president’s office.”
Britain has previously pointed the finger at Moscow for the March 4 attack, sparking furious denials.
In the aftermath, Britain and its allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, prompting Russian to respond in kind. The United States also imposed fresh sanctions over the attack.
Britain will brief the UN Security Council later Thursday on its latest findings, with the meeting due to open around 11:30 am (1530 GMT).
Moscow on Wednesday again denied involvement in the case, accusing Britain of “unfounded accusations”.
“Instead of conducting an independent, objective and transparent investigation… London continues to engage in anti-Russian megaphone diplomacy, continuing its propaganda show,” the foreign ministry said.
– Cyber-war? –
The US ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, and the Australian government have offered their support for Britain’s stance against Russia.
Wallace said his government would seek to “maintain the pressure” on Russia “to say that the behaviour we’ve seen is totally unacceptable”.
Options include “more sanctions — we are obviously taking it today to the UN to present our case”.
However he noted that Russia would be there and would likely use its veto on any statement that might arise.
Amid reports that Britain was planning a response in cyber-space, Wallace said the Russians were the main operators behind attacks on British networks.
“We retaliate in our way… within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way, that they know the cost of what they do,” he said.
The Skripals survived the poisoning but remnants of Novichok found in a fake perfume bottle were picked up by a local man weeks later.
Charlie Rowley gave it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who later died.
British prosecutors said Wednesday they had enough evidence to charge the two men identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov with conspiracy to murder Skripal, attempted murder and the use of a banned chemical weapon.
They said they would not formally demand their extradition, as Russia does not extradite its citizens, but have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for the pair.