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In a TV address, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to “play with fire” over Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane on Syrian border.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said he wanted to meet Vladimir Putin “face-to-face” at climate talks in Paris to resolve the issue.

Vladimir Putin wants an apology from Turkey before he will speak to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Russian president’s aide said.

Russia has suspended its visa-free arrangement with Turkey in the latest of a range of retaliatory measures.

Turkey says the Russian warplane was in its airspace when the decision was taken to shoot it down on November 24 – Russia insists the plane was flying over Syria at the time.

Tensions have been heightened by the fact that the two countries are pursuing different aims in Syria.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad since late September, while Turkey, which is a member of a US-led coalition, insists Bashar al-Assad must step down before any political solution to the crisis is found.

However, all are united in trying to rid the region of ISIS, also known as Daesh.

In a televised speech, Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Russia it was “playing with fire to attack the Syrian opposition, who have international legitimacy, under the pretext of fighting against Daesh”.Turkey and Russia tensions

The Turkish president said Moscow was also playing with fire to use the downing of the jet “as an excuse to make unacceptable accusations against us”, and accused Russians of “mistreating” Turkish citizens who were in the country for a trade fair.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to meet Vladimir Putin face-to-face on the sidelines of the climate summit in Paris next week “to bring the issue to a reasonable point. We are disturbed that the issue has been escalated”.

While he has refused to apologize, Recep Tayyip Erdogan did say on November 26 that had Turkey known the plane was Russian, “maybe we would have warned it differently”.

Vladimir Putin has firmly rejected any suggestion Turkey did not recognize the plane as Russian. He said it was easily identifiable and its coordinates had been passed on to Turkey’s ally, the US.

A senior Russian commander went further on November 27 and claimed the Russian warplane was “ambushed” by two Turkish F-15s.

Gen. Viktor Bondarev said Russian and Syrian radar data showed the F-16s had been flying in the area for more than an hour and the plane that fired the missile did so from 1.2 miles inside Syria.

The Russian jet was shot down 3.4 miles south of the Turkish border, he said.

The Turkish military earlier in the week released audio of what it said were repeated warnings to the Russian jet to change its course, and claimed the jet had spent 17 seconds in Turkish air space before being shot down.

Announcing the suspension of a visa-free travel regime with Turkey from January 1, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he believed the Turkish leadership had “crossed the line of what is acceptable”.

On November 26, Russia said it was drafting a wide-ranging list of economic sanctions against Turkey that would hit food imports and joint investment projects among other things.

Turkey and Russia have important economic links. Russia is Turkey’s second-largest trading partner, while more than three million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2014.

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Turkey has released an audio recording of what it says were warnings to a Russian military jet before it was shot down on the Syrian border.

“Change your heading south immediately,” a voice says in English.

The Turkish military said it had tried to rescue the SU-24 bomber’s two pilots.

One of the pilots was killed by gunfire as he parachuted from the burning plane.

The other pilot was rescued. He denied claims the warplane had violated Turkish airspace and warnings had been given.

The Russian warplane crashed into a mountainside on Syrian soil after being hit by a missile from a Turkish F-16 fighter jet on November 24.

Tensions have escalated between Turkey and Russia over the incident, with Russian President Vladimir Putin describing it as a “stab in the back” and warning of “serious consequences”.

Moscow later broke off military contacts with Ankara and said it would deploy its most advanced anti-aircraft missile system in Syria to destroy any target that may threaten its warplanes. It also said fighter jets would now escort its bombers during air strikes over Syria.

On November 26, Russia said it would impose stricter controls on food and agriculture imports from Turkey. A Russian official said some 15% of Turkish agricultural produce fell short of Russian standards, with excessive levels of pesticides, nitrates and nitrites.

The US, the EU and the UN have all appealed for calm.Russia SU 24 jet crash

France’s President Francois Hollande is travelling to Moscow on November 26 to shore up support for action against ISIS, which killed 130 people in attacks in Paris on November 13.

The Turkish military said it had given 10 warnings to the Russian plane before it was shot down in Turkish airspace.

Turkish officials also say they did not know the warplane was Russian until they had shot it down.

On November 25, the Turkish military also put out a statement saying it had been in touch with Russian military attaches to explain the rules of engagement that led to the incident and that it had tried to rescue the pilots.

Turkey said it was ready for “all kinds of co-operation” with Moscow over the incident.

The surviving Russian pilot said on November 25 no warning had been given by Turkey.

Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin also stressed there was “no way” the jet could have violated Turkish airspace, as Ankara said it did.

He knew the region “very well”, he said, and the jet had not been in Turkish airspace “even for a second”.

Russia said the pilot was rescued from rebel-held territory in north-eastern Syria in a 12-hour operation involving Russian and Syrian Special Forces.

A Russian marine was also killed and a helicopter destroyed by rebels during the operation.

Syrian rebels released a video apparently showing the dead body of the second pilot, who was identified by Russia as Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov.

Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin was speaking from the Hmeymim airbase, where Russia’s aircraft are based.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes against opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since late September.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended the action by the country’s military, saying “everyone must respect the right of Turkey to protect its borders”.

He said he did not want to escalate tensions further.

Turkey is a member of NATO. The alliance has backed Turkey’s version of events, although it, too, is calling for “diplomacy and de-escalation” to resolve the situation.

Russia and Turkey have found themselves on opposing sides in Syria’s conflict, with Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey is a staunch critic.

Turkey is also part of the US-led coalition against ISIS.

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Ukraine has decided to ban all Russian planes from using its airspace after exports of Russian gas to Ukraine have been halted by state-controlled giant Gazprom.

The decision was announced by Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk at a televised government meeting.

Gazprom said it had halted gas deliveries to Ukraine because it had used up all the gas it had paid for.

Ukraine said it had stopped buying from Gazprom because it could get cheaper gas from Europe.

The airspace ban applies to military planes as well as civil airliners.

PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: “The Ukrainian government has decided to ban all transit flights for all Russian airlines in Ukraine’s airspace.

“The government is instructing [aviation authority] Ukraerorukh, in line with the norms of international law, to inform the Russian Federation that Russian airlines and Russian aircraft do not have the right to use Ukraine’s airspace any longer.”Ukraine closes airspace for Russia

Following previous clashes over gas supplies, the two countries had agreed that Ukraine would pay for its gas in advance.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said on November 25 that Ukraine had already used up all the gas it had paid for.

In a statement, Alexei Miller said that “deliveries have been stopped until the receipt of new payments from the Ukrainian company.

“The refusal to buy Russian gas will create serious risks for the reliable transit of gas to Europe through Ukraine and for the supply of gas to Ukrainian consumers during the upcoming winter,” he added.

However, Arseniy Yatsenyuk dismissed Alexei Miller’s comments out of hand.

The prime minister said his government had decided to stop buying gas from Russia as it could get a better deal elsewhere.

“The government has made the decision to order [Ukraine’s national oil and gas company] Naftohaz to stop buying Russian gas.

“They got it all wrong. It is not them who are not supplying gas to us, it is us who are not buying gas from them. This is being done because offers that have come from our European partners – price offers – are much better than the offers from our eastern neighbor.”

Russia cut off gas to Ukraine in June 2014 as the conflict between the government in Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated.

However, it resumed them following the pre-payment deal.

About 15% of gas used in Europe travels through Ukraine. The EU has been holding talks aimed at keeping supplies running between the two sides.

Turkey has reportedly shot down a Russian warplane on the border with Syria.

According to Russia’s defense ministry, a Su-24 had crashed on Syrian territory after being hit by fire from the ground, and that its pilots had managed to eject.

However, Turkish military officials said Turkish F-16s had shot down the plane after repeatedly warning its pilots they were violating Turkish airspace.

Video showed the warplane crashing in a rebel-held area of Latakia province.

It is the first time a Russian military aircraft has crashed in Syria since Moscow launched airstrikes against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in late September.

Photo Ap

Photo Ap

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the incident as “very serious”, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions.

The NATO military alliance, to which Turkey belongs, said it was following the situation “closely” and was in contact with the Turkish authorities.

The Russian defense ministry confirmed on November 24 that a Russian Su-24 had “crashed on Syrian territory, having been hit from the ground” while it was flying at an altitude of 6,000m [19,685ft].

“Efforts are being made to ascertain what happened to the pilots. According to preliminary reports, the pilots have managed to self-eject,” the ministry was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

The ministry stressed that “throughout its flight, the aircraft remained exclusively above Syrian territory”, adding: “Objective monitoring data shows it.”

However, the Turkish military said two F-16s on patrol had fired on an unidentified aircraft at 09:24 local time after warning it 10 times over five minutes about violating Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province.

It noted that the F-16s had intervened “in accordance with the rules of engagement”, which were changed after Syria shot down a Turkish plane in 2012.

According to th Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jet had crashed in the mountainous Jabal Turkmen area of Latakia, where air strikes and fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces had been reported earlier on Tuesday.

Russian military helicopters were searching for the pilots near the crash site in the predominantly Turkmen Bayir Bucak area, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV quoted an ethnic Turkmen rebel group as saying it had captured one of the Su-24’s two pilots and were “looking for the other”.

A video posted online by rebels meanwhile appeared to show a Russian pilot immobile on the ground, either badly wounded or dead.

Russian aircraft have flown hundreds of sorties over northern Syria since September. Moscow says they have targeted only “terrorists”, but activists say its strikes have mainly hit Western-backed rebel groups.

Turkey, a vehement opponent of Syria’s president, has warned against violations of its airspace by Russian and Syrian aircraft.

Last month, Ankara said Turkish F-16s had intercepted a Russian jet that crossed its border and two Turkish jets had been harassed by an unidentified Mig-29.

The Turkish foreign ministry also summoned the Russian ambassador last week to warn him that there would be “serious consequences” if the Russian air force did not immediately stop bombing “civilian Turkmen villages” in Bayir Bucak.

Vladimir Putin has ordered an investigation into claims Russia’s athletes have been part of a systematic doping program.

The Russian president was speaking for the first time since a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent report recommended Russia be banned from athletics competition.

Vladimir Putin said athletes should be punished individually, rather than collectively.

“Sportsmen who don’t dope – and never have – must not answer for those who break the rules,” he said.

“If we find that someone must be held responsible for something of the sort that breaks the rules in place against doping, then the responsibility must be personalized – that’s the rule.”

Vladimir Putin also said he wanted “professional co-operation” with anti-doping bodies.

“The battle must be open,” he said.

“A sporting contest is only interesting when it is honest.”

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko had earlier said the UK’s anti-doping system had “zero value” and was “even worse” than Russia’s.

That accusation was rejected by the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Vladimir Putin spoke only about the issues affecting Russia, saying someone must take responsibility should problems be found.

“I ask the minister of sport and all our colleagues who are linked in one way or another with sport to pay this issue the greatest possible attention,” he said, before a meeting sports officials in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Photo AP

Photo AP

“It is essential that we conduct our own internal investigation and – I want to underline – provide the most open professional co-operation with international anti-doping structures.”

Sebastian Coe, president of athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, has told the Russian athletics federation to respond to WADA’s report by November 13.

The report’s author, Dick Pound, recommended Russian athletes be suspended from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

However, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said on November 11 his organization had “no authority” to take such action, and the matter was solely for the IAAF to deal with.

Thomas Bach also said the IOC would continue to apply a zero-tolerance policy to doping, and that Olympic medals would be withdrawn from any Russian athlete named in the WADA report who is found guilty of doping.

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Vladimir Putin’s former aide Mikhail Lesin has been found dead in a hotel in Washington DC, Russian state media say.

Mikhail Lesin, 57, Russia’s former press minister and a one-time head of the powerful Gazprom-Media Holding group, died on November 5, the RIA-Novosti and Tass news agencies report.

Russian media, quoting Mikhail Lesin’s family, said he suffered a heart attack.

According to the Washington Post, Mikhail Lesin’s body was found in a room at the Dupont Circle hotel.

Police are investigating the Russian’s death.

In 2014, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker called for an investigation into Mikhail Lesin, saying his fortune “raises serious questions”.

In a letter to the US Department of Justice, Senator Roger Wicker said Mikhail Lesin bought a $28 million property in Los Angeles for his family after finishing work as a civil servant.Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Lesin

Roger Wicker asked how a former civil servant would have been able to buy and maintain expensive property, and expressed concern their purchase may have involved people and groups on a US sanctions list.

Mikhail Lesin was for a long time considered one of the most influential figures in the Russian media market and in the corridors of power.

He worked as an aide to the Russian presidency between 2004 and 2009, when he helped advise on the creation of the news channel Russia Today.

President Vladimir Putin hailed “the enormous contribution made by Mikhail Lesin to the formation of modern Russian media”, according to Tass.

In 2014, Mikhail Lesin was accused of trying to force a radio station in which he was a shareholder to cut an interview with opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Roger Wicker’s letter said Mikhail Lesin “led the Kremlin’s effort to censor Russia’s independent television outlets”.

Mikhail Lesin, who resigned from Gazprom-Media in 2014, leaves a wife, son and daughter, the Ria-Novosti agency said.

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Russia has suspended all flights to Egypt following indications that the crash near Sharm el-Sheikh was caused by a bomb.

President Vladimir Putin made the announcement after UK investigators said they believed a bomb was put in the plane’s hold prior to take-off, killing all 224 people on board.

Militants linked to ISIS say they downed the plane.

The Metrojet Airbus A321 was flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg when it came down in Sinai on Saturday. Most of the victims were Russian.

Militants from the Sinai Province group, linked to ISIS, have not said how they destroyed the plane. ISIS has called for a war against both Russia and the US over their air strikes in Syria.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

UK officials received intelligence based on intercepted communications between militants in the Sinai Peninsula, indicating an explosive device may have been put inside or on top of the luggage just before the plane took off.

Experts in Moscow are investigating pieces of debris from the crash site, Russian officials say.

Russia is also working to repatriate as many as 45,000 Russian holidaymakers currently in Egypt – and an official said it could take up to a month to bring them home.

Since November 4, several countries have joined Britain in restricting travel to Sharm el-Sheikh. They include Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Tourism contributed more than 12% to Egypt’s economy in 2013 and the latest measures will hit it hard, analysts say. One in five foreign tourists in Egypt is Russian.

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A Gulag museum has been opened in Moscow on October 30, the Russian authorities have announced.

The museum is dedicated to the millions who were persecuted in Soviet labor camps in 1930-1950 – in the so-called Gulag system.

The opening coincided with a national day of remembrance for the victims of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Earlier, thousands of victims’ names were read out near the Lubyanka, the former base of the KGB secret police.

The new Gulag museum is bigger than a previous one founded in 2001.

Under President Vladimir Putin’s rule Russian officials have tended to downplay Stalin’s crimes, focusing more on Stalin’s role in the Soviet World War Two victory over Nazi Germany.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

Portraits of Joseph Stalin have reappeared in public – yet they were taboo for decades after his death and the 1956 denunciation of Stalinism by his Communist successor Nikita Khrushchev.

The new five-storey museum shows personal effects of Gulag prisoners, the dimensions of prison cells, and original doors from camps in remote Magadan, Anadyr and Vorkuta.

Up to 170 prisoners were crammed into one cell.

There are also grim discoveries from execution pits – bullets and casings, and wire used to tie up victims.

An estimated 20 million people died during Stalin’s reign of terror. At the height of the terror, in the 1930s, victims accused of plotting against Soviet power were executed en masse.

On entering the museum visitors hear the chilling clank of cell doors being shut and loud footsteps in prison corridors.

“I want visitors to be able to touch the doors and immerse themselves in this theme, to feel it,” said museum director Roman Romanov, quoted by the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

A huge map of Russia shows the camp locations – described in detail in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s chronicle The Gulag Archipelago, which was banned by the Soviet authorities.

Visitors can also read about the experiences and suffering of individual prisoners.

By focusing on the Stalin period the museum does not however include the persecution of dissidents that went on after Joseph Stalin’s death.

As of Sunday, October 25, Ukraine will stop direct flights to Russia, as new sanctions initiated by Kiev come into effect.

Moscow first called Kiev’s ban on Russian airlines “madness”, then announced that it would mirror the move.

Ukraine now says flights will end at midnight on October 24, after last-minute crisis talks failed.

Up to 70,000 passengers a month will be affected.

The sanctions are intended to punish Russia for annexing Crimea and supporting armed rebels in eastern Ukraine. The fact that they have been introduced now, when a ceasefire is finally holding on the ground, shows how bitter relations remain.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Russia has accused Ukraine of shooting itself in the foot with the move, pointing out that most passengers are Ukrainian travelling to work in Russia, visiting relatives or in transit.

Two-thirds of all passengers travel on Russian airlines.

Russia’s transport minister has estimated that the loss in ticket sales to both countries will run to around $110 million a year.

The ban is already angering passengers from both countries.

Last-minute talks to find a compromise are under way – so far to no avail – and the chances of success look slim in this climate.

As of October 25, passengers will be forced to take longer, more expensive routes via third countries, or to brace themselves for a 13-hour trip by train.

Turkish army jets have intercepted a Russian warplane while violating Turkey’s airspace on October 3, Turkey’s foreign ministry says.

The Russian fighter plane “exited Turkish airspace into Syria” after being intercepted, the ministry said.

The Turkish minister has spoken to his Russian counterpart, as well as ministers from other NATO countries.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Russian embassy in Ankara said a Russian plane did violate Turkish airspace, and Russia has “explained it” to Turkey, Interfax reports.

However, a Kremlin spokesman in Moscow did not confirm the incident: “Our ambassador was called to the foreign ministry and given a note, which mentions certain facts, which will be checked.”Russian warplane intercepted in Turkey

The Russian air campaign began on September 30 with Moscow insisting it was targeting ISIS positions.

However, Syrian activists say Russian planes have also targeted other Syrian groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

On October 5, Russia said it had “continued performing pinpoint strikes” on ISIS targets in Syria, carrying out 25 sorties and hitting nine ISIS targets.

Among those targets was a communications centre in Homs, and a command centre in Latakia, it said.

NATO said its Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg would meet the Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels on October 5.

Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the Russian intervention in Syria as a grave mistake that would further isolate Moscow.

Saturday’s interception took place south of the Yayladagi/Hatay region, Turkey says.

The foreign ministry in Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to issue a “strong protest” against the incident, it said.

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Russia has reopened the 1918 murder case of Tsar Nicolas II and his family, the Romanovs.

The bones of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife, reburied in a St Petersburg cathedral, will be re-examined.

Revolutionary Bolsheviks killed the Romanovs in a cellar in the Urals region.

The Investigative Committee, a state body, says new checks are needed in order to verify the remains of four other Romanov family members.

The Russian Orthodox Church requested the new investigation in July – despite the fact that the murder case had been closed in 1998.

Some church members remain unconvinced that the buried remains are those of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra.Romanovs murder case reopened 2015

The Romanovs were ousted from power and exiled in 1917, shortly before the communist Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government.

Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, their four daughters – grand duchesses Anastasia, Maria, Olga and Tatiana – their son, the Tsarevich Alexei and four royal staff members were murdered at a remote house in Yekaterinburg in 1918.

The remains of nine victims were found in a mass grave in 1993. But the remains of Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria were found in 2007 at a different spot. DNA tests identified them as the murdered royals.

Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra and three daughters were formally reburied at St Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Cathedral on July 17, 1998 – the 80th anniversary of the murder. They were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000.

The new investigation is focusing on the remains of four Romanovs. They are: Tsarevich Alexei, Grand Duchess Maria – both kept at the Russian State Archive – Alexandra’s sister the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, and Nicholas’s grandfather, former Tsar Alexander II, who was assassinated in 1881.

Only now can investigators get access to Duchess Elizabeth’s remains, which are in Jerusalem.

Investigators want to examine spots of blood on the greatcoat of Alexander II. He was killed by a bomb thrown by a “People’s Will” revolutionary, and buried in his military uniform in the Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Documents from the so-called “White Guards Investigation” concerning the 1918 murder will also be studied. They came to light in the past four years.

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Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev has announced he filed a $12 billion compensation claim against the Russian state.

In the claim at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the tycoon once known as Putin’s banker said Russia had carved up his empire after he fell out with President Vladimir Putin.

Russia accuses Sergei Pugachev, 52, of embezzling millions of dollars.

An Interpol arrest warrant has been issued for him at Moscow’s request.

Sergei Pugachev denies the charges.

The tycoon – who once estimated his business empire was worth $15 billion – announced his move against Russia on September 22 in Paris.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Sergei Pugachev told Reuters that Vladimir Putin’s allies had “expropriated my assets” following the 2008 global financial crisis and then pursued him in courts on charges of embezzlement and asset misappropriation.

He also said that he had feared for his life after falling out with Vladimir Putin.

Sergei Pugachev – the founder of Mezhprombank – said his case resembled that of Yukos, Russia’s now defunct oil producer giant.

In 2014, The Hague court ruled that Russia should pay $50 billion in damages to former Yukos shareholders. It said Russian officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos and jailed its boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Russia said it would appeal against the ruling.

Meanwhile in Russia, a court in May ordered Sergei Pugachev’s arrest on embezzlement charges. The oligarch is accused of knowingly bankrupting his own bank.

Sergei Pugachev left Russia in 2011 and since then has been living in Britain and France.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not commented on Sergei Pugachev’s compensation claim in The Hague court.

However, Dmitry Peskov said investigations in Russia against Sergei Pugachev had nothing to do with the tycoon’s relations with President Vladimir Putin.

“If I am not mistaken, Pugachev is on a wanted list, after all, and, of course, the investigative and search work… has nothing to do with friendly or unfriendly relations,” Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station

“Therefore, here I would absolutely not mix these two issues,” he added.

President Vladimir Putin did not have a phone conversation with Elton John, who has said he wants to talk to him about gay rights, the Kremlin says.

Elton John had said he wanted to talk to Vladimir Putin about his “ridiculous” stance.

Later, a message on Elton John’s Instagram account thanked Vladimir Putin for “reaching out” in a phone conversation.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no conversation between Elton John and the Russian president had taken place – and hinted that the call could have been a hoax.Elton John and Vladimir Putin gay rigts row

Elton John’s Instagram message added: “I look forward to meeting with you face to face to discuss LGBT equality in Russia.”

The pop star’s office said that the two men had spoken.

But Dmitry Peskov told reporters that reports of a conversation were “not true”.

“I don’t know who spoke to Elton John but President Putin did not speak to him,” he said.

“I don’t know [what happened] but President Putin did not speak to Elton John and most importantly we didn’t receive any proposals to meet.”

Dmitry Peskov added: “If the president does get such a signal from Elton John, the president has always been open to discuss any… human rights problems, any issues. He is always ready to clarify the real situation.”

Russia has faced international criticism for its homophobic laws.

A report by Human Rights Watch in 2014 said Russia was failing to prevent and prosecute homophobic violence amid a rise in attacks against minorities.

During a recent interview, Elton John admitted he thought it was unlikely he would meet President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s probably pie in the sky. He may laugh behind my back when he shuts the door, and call me an absolute idiot, but at least I can think I have the conscience to say I tried.”

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Ex-Russian internet “troll” Lyudmila Savchuk has been awarded one ruble ($0.01) in damages after she sued her former employer to expose it as a propaganda “factory”.

Lyudmila Savchuk says she and hundreds of colleagues at Internet Research in St Petersburg flooded websites with pro-Putin commentary.

A Russian court ordered Internet Research to pay Lyudmila Savchuk symbolic damages.

An agency representative said it did market research and he was not aware of “trolling” activities, reports say.

Photo Facebook

Photo Facebook

Lyudmila Savchuk, 34, sued the secretive company for alleged moral damages, non-payment of wages and for failing to give workers proper contracts.

The freelance journalist said she worked for the company for two months for a salary of about 40,000 rubles ($400) a month, but was fired in March after speaking to the media about her employer.

Petrogradsky district court on August 17 set the damages at one ruble following an agreement between the parties.

Lyudmila Savchuk said she was happy with the result because she had succeeded in exposing the work of Russia’s internet “trolls”.

Russian media quoted a spokesman for Internet Research denying the accusations.

The Kremlin says it has no links to Internet Research’s operations.

Since leaving the agency, Lyudmila Savchuk has been organizing a public movement against online trolling.

Over the past year, Russia has seen an unprecedented rise in the activity of bloggers allegedly paid by the Russian state to criticize the West on social media over the conflict in eastern Ukraine and post favorable comments about President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has protested over the seizure of the Russian state assets in Belgium, a move triggered by a court ruling over the now-defunct Yukos oil company.

The Belgian ambassador to Moscow was told that the asset seizure was “an openly hostile act” that “crudely violates the recognized norms of international law”.

In 2014, a court told Russia to pay Yukos shareholders $50 billion in compensation, after Yukos’s break-up.

A Russian state company took over Yukos.

In July 2014, an international arbitration court in The Hague said Russian officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos, and jail its boss, the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.Russia Belgium asset seizure over Yukos

France has also seized Russian state accounts in about 40 banks, along with eight or nine buildings, AFP news agency reports.

In a statement on Facebook, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in detention in Russia, expressed joy at the asset seizures.

“I am not a beneficiary in this process as the partners redeemed my share back in 2004. But this does not prevent me from sincerely rejoicing, as a Russian citizen, at what is happening now.

“This is a symbolic moment for our country,” Mikhail Khodorkovsky said, calling it “a signal that theft will not escape punishment, no matter how all-powerful the thief was”.

According to a Russian foreign ministry statement, Russia demanded that Belgium reverse its asset seizure. If no such action was taken, Russia warned, it would consider “appropriate reciprocal measures” against the Belgian embassy and unnamed Belgian officials.

Earlier, Russia’s Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev ruled out any compensation for Yukos shareholders. Their interests are now represented by a Gibraltar-registered holding company, GML.

Russia is appealing against the court ruling of last July, Alexei Ulyukayev said.

The asset seizures in Belgium and France also affect Russian media, including TASS news agency and state broadcaster VGTRK, Russian media report.

GML manager Tim Osborne was quoted in French media as saying similar legal action was being taken against Russian state assets in the UK and US.

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Vladimir Putin has dismissed the idea that Russia could attack NATO as “insane”.

In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera, President Vladimir Putin says Russia is not a threat to NATO.

The Russian president told the publication: “Only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.”

The Western alliance is bolstering its military presence in its eastern European members in response to their fears of Russian threat, following its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

NATO says that Russia is backing rebels in Ukraine – a claim denied by Moscow.

Photo Kremlin.ru

Photo Kremlin.ru

Three Baltic countries are preparing to ask for a permanent presence of NATO troops on their soil to act as a deterrent to the Russian military.

Six NATO bases are being set up and a 5,000-strong “spearhead” force established.

In his interview with the Italian publication, Vladimir Putin said some countries were “simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia” in order to receive “some supplementary military, economic, financial or some other aid”.

“There is no need to fear Russia,” he said.

“The world has changed so drastically that people with some common sense cannot even imagine such a large-scale military conflict today. We have other things to think about, I assure you.”

Heavy fighting has erupted in Ukraine this week, focusing on the towns of Maryinka and Krasnohorivka, west of rebel-held Donetsk.

The opposing sides have accused each other of shattering February’s Minsk ceasefire, requiring them to withdraw heavy weapons from the frontline.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko told a news conference on June 5 that Russia had massed troops on the border and in rebel-held areas “in unprecedented numbers” – but Russia again denied that its military was involved in Ukraine.

Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine has deployed 50,000 troops in the conflict zone to meet the threat.

More than 6,400 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began in April 2014, when rebels seized large parts of two eastern regions, following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula.

The Ukraine crisis is on the agenda of talks of leaders of the most industrialized group of countries – the G7 – beginning on June 7, without Russia – usually its eight member.

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President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill which allows foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to be banned from operating in Russia.

The new law allows the Russian authorities to prosecute foreign NGOs or companies designated as “undesirable” on national security grounds.

Individuals working for NGOs could face fines or up to six years in prison.

Critics say it is a Kremlin move aimed at stifling dissent.Vladimir Putin foreign NGO law

The definition of “undesirable” is open to interpretation, but the Interfax news agency said it would apply to organizations deemed to pose a threat to the “foundations of Russia’s constitutional order, defensive capacity and security”.

Organizations linked to politics in Russia already face restrictions under a 2012 law requiring them to register as “foreign agents”.

The new bill’s supporters say it is essential to prevent Russia from outside interference, amid ongoing tensions due to the country’s involvement in Ukraine.

There was concern from Western governments and NGOs about the implications.

The US State Separtment said it was “deeply troubled” by the law.

State Department’s spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement: “We are concerned this new power will further restrict the work of civil society in Russia and is a further example of the Russian government’s growing crackdown on independent voices and intentional steps to isolate the Russian people from the world.”

Amnesty International said the bill would “squeeze the life” from civil society, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned it would be locals who would be worst-hit.

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Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin during his first visit to the country since the beginning of Ukraine in early 2014.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the visit a “positive step” and said the Russian president was prepared for “extensive” discussions at the meeting in Sochi.

Jonh Kerry will also meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The West accuses Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine and sending troops there – charges Moscow denies.John Kerry to meet Vladimir Putin in Sochi

More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The conflict followed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said John Kerry’s trip was “part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure US views are clearly conveyed”.

Dmitry Peskov praised John Kerry’s decision to travel to Russia, adding: “We are always open to showing a political will for a broader dialogue.

“Through dialogue, it is possible to look for paths to a certain normalization, to a closer co-ordination in decisions.”

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Russia was prepared to discuss international “hot spots” as well as bilateral relations, and that the issue of Western sanctions against Russia would not be raised by the Russian side.

Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming the US for provoking the Ukraine crisis and attempting to “isolate Russia” while demanding its allies follow suit.

John Kerry’s visit comes two days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Moscow to commemorate the Russians killed during World War Two.

At a joint news conference with Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel said the annexation of Crimea had caused “a serious setback in our relations”.

Angela Merkel and other Western leaders boycotted a military parade in Red Square on May 9.

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Russia is marking 70 years of victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two with a huge military parade in Moscow.

Thousands of troops are marching on Red Square in Moscow, and new armor being displayed for the first time.

More than 20 heads of states are in Moscow, but many world leaders are boycotting the event because of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

As the event began, Russian President Vladimir Putin said international co-operation had been put at risk in recent years.

Russia denies claims by the West that it is arming rebels in eastern Ukraine. More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting began in April 2014 in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.Russian military parade Victory 70

In his speech, Vladimir Putin paid tribute to the sacrifices of Soviet troops during World War Two. He also thanked “the people of Great Britain, France and the United States for their contribution to victory”.

Vladimir Putin also said: “In recent decades the basic principles of international co-operation have been ignored ever more frequently. We see how a military-bloc mentality is gaining momentum.”

The remarks echo previous complaints by Vladimir Putin about what he says are efforts by the US and its NATO allies to encircle Russia militarily.

The victory parade started at 10:00 local time. Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Pranab Mukherjee of India and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are among more than 20 world leaders watching the event.

Military units from across Russia – some dressed in WWII-era uniforms – are marching, and more than 100 aircraft have flown over Red Square.

The most talked-about new high-tech Russian armor is the T-14 Armata battle tank, which has a remote-controlled gun turret and reinforced capsule for the crew.

The RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles – each capable of delivering three nuclear warheads – were also on show.

In a sign of closer ties between Russia and China, a column of Chinese troops marched in Moscow for the first time.

Military parades on a smaller scale are also being held in other cities, including Sevastopol in Crimea – Ukraine’s southern peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 – as well as the Ukrainian rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The US, Australia, Canada and most of the EU heads of state are boycotting the celebrations in Russia over its alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

On May 8, Poland organized an alternative event for those leaders who refused to go to Moscow.

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Vladimir Putin’s bikers have begun a controversial ride to Berlin, even though Poland says it will not allow them to cross the country.

The Night Wolves bike club wants to retrace the route of the Red Army in World War Two, and visit memorials to the Soviet troops who died fighting the Nazis.

Poland’s PM Ewa Kopacz called the trip a provocation.Night Wolves Berlin ride

The ultra-patriotic bikers are renowned for their staunch support of President Vladimir Putin, particularly his policies in Ukraine.

The US has put the Night Wolves on its sanctions list.

The bikers heading for Berlin joined a large crowd at the Night Wolves’ headquarters in Moscow on April 25 for the annual launch of the season.

Their leather jackets were newly embroidered: “Routes of Victory, 1941-45“.

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In a live televised phone-in, President Vladimir Putin says Russia can use Western sanctions to boost economic development by becoming more self-reliant.

Vladimir Putin said he had told business leaders that he did not expect EU-US sanctions – imposed over Russia’s actions in Ukraine – to be lifted soon.

“We need to use the situation to reach a new level of development,” the president said.

It is the 13th such annual phone-in – and usually they last about 4 hours.

The event is highly choreographed but does reveal Russians’ concerns.Vladimir Putin live phone in 2015

About two million people have submitted questions – and more will come in during the broadcast. Russia’s ailing economy is a national preoccupation.

Vladimir Putin said the Russian economy would take about two years to bounce back, or less as the Russian ruble’s value was rising again. But industrial output may shrink further, he warned.

He said there were encouraging signs that Russian agriculture was growing and replacing imports of Western food.

Vladimir Putin is said to have taken two days out to prepare for the phone-in by consulting ministers and other experts. The broadcast began at 12:00 local time from a studio near the Kremlin.

The Kremlin says there has been an increase in questions about foreign policy, including calls to give formal recognition to the two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Vladimir Putin is likely to face complaints about healthcare, pensions and rising food prices, as Russians’ real incomes have fallen this year for the first time since he came to power.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said about 23% of the questions submitted concerned social welfare issues, and the second biggest area of concern was housing and local services.

The US ambassador to Czech Republic, Andrew Schapiro, has been barred from Prague Castle, President Milos Zeman says.

Prague Castle is the president’s official residence and office.

The apparent snub follows remarks by Andrew Schapiro seen as critical of Milos Zeman’s decision to attend forthcoming World War Two commemorations in Moscow.

Several world leaders are boycotting the ceremony over Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict.

Milos Zeman is considered more sympathetic to Russia on the issue.

Andrew Schapiro had “overstepped the mark” by criticizing the decision to attend celebrations in May marking the anniversary of the end of WW2, news portal Parlamentni Listy quotes President Milos Zeman as saying.Milos Zeman and Andrew Schapiro

Because of this “the doors of the castle were closed” to Andrew Schapiro, Milos Zeman continues.

“I cannot imagine that the Czech ambassador in Washington would advise the US president where he should travel. And I will not allow any ambassador to have a say in my foreign travel plans.”

Milos Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek later sought to downplay the president’s comments, saying that Andrew Schapiro could still take part in social events at the Castle.

Andrew Schapiro is quoted by Czech media as having said in March that it would “be awkward” if Milos Zeman was the only statesman from an EU country on the platform on Red Square.

The US embassy has declined to address Milos Zeman’s comments.

Milos Zeman is known for his outspoken views on a range of issues, often at variance with those of the Social Democrat-led government, correspondents say.

The presidency is largely ceremonial in Czech Republic, but Milos Zeman became the first man directly elected to the post when he took office in 2013.

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Jeremy Clarkson has been offered a new job less than 24 hours after being dropped from Top Gear.

The Russian Armed Forces Broadcasting Company, known as Zvezda, has invited Jeremy Clarkson to present their motoring television show.

In a statement on its website, Zvezda says it “expresses deep honor” to Jeremy Clarkson and “kindly asks for cooperation”.

Zvezda has asked Jeremy Clarkson to travel to Moscow to “discuss all the details”.Jeremy Clarkson offered job by Russian Army TV

The former Top Gear presenter has yet to reveal whether or not he is interested in the job.

Zvezda has published an email apparently from a spokesperson for Jeremy Clarkson.

The text claims he said: “I can only imagine what an episode… would [be] like. It could feature a Tsar in a reasonably priced car.”

The “spokesman” may be from a company which supplies high-profile people to give talks at corporate events.

Jeremy Clarkson has left Top Gear after his “fracas” with show producer Oisin Tymon earlier this month.

Viktor Yanukovych Jr., the younger son of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has drowned in Lake Baikal in Russia, reports say.

Earlier Russian and Ukrainian media reports said Viktor Yanukovych Jr. died after his vehicle fell through ice on Lake Baikal in the south of the Russian region of Siberia.

Reports say Viktor Yanukovych’s son had been taking part in a sporting event when the VW van plunged into the water.

Five other people in the vehicle escaped, Ukrainian news website Levvy Bereg quoted sources from his inner circle as saying.Viktor Yanukovych dead at 33

Russian website RBK quoted local officials as saying the incident happened on March 21, after the group drove on to the ice to take photographs.

Viktor Yanukovych Jr., 33, was known for his passion for extreme driving.

His death is the latest of several involving people with ties to former President Viktor Yanukovych.

Oleksandr Peklushenko, a former regional governor, was found dead in Ukraine earlier this month in what authorities said appeared to be a suicide.

Five other officials also died in mysterious circumstances this year.

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