President Vladimir Putin paid homage to Russia’s World War II dead on Monday as he visited an enormous new Orthodox cathedral built to honour the military.
Nearly 100 metres (330 feet) high and crowned by six golden domes, the Cathedral of the Armed Forces in a military theme park outside Moscow is now Russia’s third-largest Orthodox Christian church.
It sparked controversy earlier this year when it was revealed that it would include mosaics featuring Putin and Soviet-era dictator Joseph Stalin. The mosaics were eventually removed at Putin’s request.
“For us Russians, the memory of all those who fought, those who died, who with their strength brought us closer to victory in the Great Patriotic War, is sacred,” Putin said in a televised ceremony, using the Russian name for the war.
“We are improving the armed forces, we are equipping them with new material, their combat capacity is increasing,” Putin said alongside the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
The ceremony was held on the 79th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and ahead of a huge military parade planned on Wednesday to mark 75 years since victory in the war.
Putin was forced to reschedule the parade from May 9 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen Russia record the world’s third-highest number of cases.
He has also rescheduled a public vote on constitutional reforms, initially planned for April, for July 1. Among other changes, the reforms will reset presidential term limits, allowing Putin to potentially stay in the Kremlin until 2036.
In power for 20 years, Putin often vaunts the country’s military power and Orthodox Christian values to boost his support among Russians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced additional payouts to health professionals working on “the frontline” of the country’s fight against the coronavirus.
Putin listed the bonuses as part of new measures to support Russians during the epidemic after health officials reported over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases.
The president also urged the public to be patient with the lockdown to help slow the spread of the infection.
“For most people, to be inside four walls is dreary and miserable,” he said during a video call with regional governors.
“A breakthrough in battling the infection will depend on our discipline and responsibility,” he said.
The country is realising how crucial the work of doctors is “for the first time in decades”, said Putin, promising 10 billion rubles ($132 million) for monthly bonuses to health care employees nationwide.
Doctors treating coronavirus patients would be paid an additional 80,000 rubles ($1,059) per month, while nurses, ambulance medics and drivers would get between 25,000 and 50,000 rubles.
“These specialists are on the front line,” Putin said, ordering an increase in their state insurance to the level enjoyed by members of the armed forces.
Russia on Wednesday reported 1,175 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 8,672. The epicentre of the epidemic in Russia is Moscow, with 5,841 cases.
So far, Russia has recorded only 63 deaths from the virus.
The ban aims “to protect the interests of Russian citizens” as the coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people and infected around 92,000 globally.
It does not affect supplies leaving the country as humanitarian aid or for personal use. The decree is dated Monday, when it entered force, and is set to expire on June 1.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month called for the closure of pharmacies that hike prices for face masks.
Russia has had six confirmed cases of coronavirus, including three people repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan and two Chinese citizens. The first case in Moscow, a Russian man who had travelled to Italy, was announced Monday.
The country has imposed a near blanket ban on visits by Chinese citizens, although flagship airline Aeroflot is still running some flights to and from China.
It has also restricted entry for Iranians and for those travelling from South Korea.
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.
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:
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.
“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.”
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.
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.