Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned President Joe Biden that imposing new sanctions over Ukraine could lead to a complete breakdown in relations.
In a phone call late on December 30, Vladimir Putin said such sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”.
President Biden, meanwhile, told Vladimir Putin that the US and its allies would respond decisively to any invasion of Ukraine.
The call, requested by Russia, was the pair’s second such conversation this month and lasted for almost an hour.
It marked the latest effort to defuse tensions over Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, where Ukrainian officials say more than 100,000 Russian troops have been sent.
The build-up has prompted concern in the West, with the US threatening Vladimir Putin with sanctions “like none he’s ever seen” if Ukraine comes under attack.
Russia, however, denies it is planning to invade Ukraine and says the troops are there for exercises. It says it is entitled to move its troops freely on its own soil.
Although the two sides exchanged warnings during the call, Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters shortly after that Vladimir Putin was “pleased” with the conversation. He added that it had created a “good backdrop” for future talks.
US and Russian officials are set to meet for in-person talks in Geneva next month, and the White House said President Biden urged his Russian counterpart to pursue a diplomatic solution.
In a holiday message before December 30 call, Vladimir Putin told Joe Biden he was “convinced” the pair could work together based on “mutual respect and consideration of each other’s national interests”.
His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was “in the mood for a conversation”.
Ukraine’s defense minister told parliament at the start of December that Russia had massed tens of thousands of troops near the border, and could be gearing up for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January.
Russia has argued the military build-up at the border is a protective measure against NATO, the Western military alliance. It wants legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further east, and that certain weapons will not be sent to Ukraine or any neighboring countries.
The US has rejected what it styles as a Kremlin bid to control the future of independent countries.
Ukraine has not been offered NATO membership, but has close ties with the bloc.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are nothing new. In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and soon after started to back a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east that has seen some 14,000 people killed in periodic fighting.
Washington and its European allies have warned Russia to expect severe economic sanctions if troops do cross into Ukraine again.
Several world leaders have denied wrongdoing after featuring in the Pandora Papers, a huge leak of financial documents from offshore companies.
The 12 million files constitute the biggest such leak in history.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein are among some 35 current and former leaders linked to the files.
Both have issued statements saying they have done nothing wrong.
Jordan’s royal palace said it was “not unusual nor improper” that King Abdullah owned property abroad.
Leaked documents show King Abdullah secretly spent more than £70 million ($100 million) on a property empire in the UK and US since taking power in 1999.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov meanwhile questioned the reliability of the “unsubstantiated” information, after it detailed hidden wealth linked to President Putin and members of his inner circle.
The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC, which has been working with more than 140 media organizations on its biggest ever global investigation.
Other leaders linked to the leak include:
Czech PM Andrej Babis, who allegedly failed to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two villas for £12 million in the south of France;
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who – along with six members of his family – has been linked to 13 offshore companies;
Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire businessman, who is accused of selling a copper and iron mine in an environmentally sensitive area to a childhood friend;
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, whose family and close associates have allegedly been secretly involved in property deals in the UK worth more than £400 million.
In a tweet thread, the Czech prime minister said the allegations are an attempt to influence elections scheduled for this week and insisted he has “never done anything wrong or illegal”.
president Kenyatta said the investigation “will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe”, and promised to “respond comprehensively” to the leak once he returned from a state visit abroad.
The Pandora Papers show no evidence that the Kenyatta family stole or hid state assets in their offshore companies.
A statement from President Piñera’s office said he denied taking part in or having any information on the sale of the Dominga mining project.
The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents and files exposing the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires. The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC which has led one of the biggest ever global investigations.
More than 600 journalists from 117 countries have looked at the hidden fortunes of some of the most powerful people on the planet.
Political organizations linked to Alexei Navalny have been banned by a court in Moscow after classifying them as “extremist”.
Activists will risk prison sentences if they continue their work and anyone who publicly supports Alexei Navalny’s political network can now be barred from running for public office.
Writing on social media, Alexei Navalny promised he would “not retreat”.
However, the Kremlin critic said his supporters would now have to change how they work.
Alexei Navalny is now jailed for violating the terms of parole in an embezzlement case – charges he says are politically motivated.
Russian parliamentary elections are due to take place in September and opinion polls show the ruling party losing support. Some of Alexei Navalny’s supporters have been planning to run in the elections.
Following June 9 ruling, a court statement said Alexei Navalny’s regional network offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) had been banned with immediate effect.
Alexei Navalny’s lawyers said they would appeal against the ruling.
A message later posted on Navalny’s Instagram account said: “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll digest this, sort things out, change, and evolve. We’ll adapt. We won’t step back from our aims and ideas. This is our country and we do not have another one.”
Alexei Navalny – President Vladimir Putin’s foremost critic – was detained in January as soon as he returned to Russia from Germany. He had received treatment in Berlin for a nerve agent attack in Siberia last August that left him in a coma and fighting for his life.
He blamed President Putin directly for the attack which nearly killed him. The Kremlin denied any involvement.
The pro-Putin United Russia party, which dominates parliament, has been described by the opposition leader as “the party of crooks and thieves”, and millions of Russians have watched his videos alleging corruption in President Putin’s elite circle.
Alexei Navalny is expected to be a topic on the agenda of talks between Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden at their first summit on June 16.
Vladimir Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999, recently said he hoped the Geneva meeting would improve the “extremely low level of relations” between the two countries but expected no breakthroughs.
Russian detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny has announced he is ending his hunger strike after 24 days of refusing food in jail.
Hours earlier Navalny’s private doctors had appealed to him to take food to preserve his life and health.
Alexei Navalny began refusing food on March 31 to demand better medical care.
He said he had twice been seen by civilian doctors and “given the progress and circumstances, I am ending my hunger strike”.
The process would be gradual, Navalny added in an Instagram post.
His doctors had warned at the weekend he could die “at any minute”. On April 22, they warned him that “further starvation” could significantly harm him and lead to his death.
Alexei Navalny was detained as soon as he returned to Russia in January, after receiving treatment in Berlin for a nerve-gas attack in Siberia that left him in coma and fighting for his life. Russian authorities denied being behind the attack, but last December Navalny tricked an FSB agent into revealing that a Novichok agent had been placed in his underpants.
He was sent to a penal colony in February for over two and a half years, after a court ruled he had broken the terms of a suspended jail term, even though he had been in a coma. Russia rejected a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that he should be freed because his life was at risk.
Alexei Navalny has lost an appeal against his jailing for violating the terms of a suspended sentence.
The Russian opposition leader was detained last month after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was being treated for a near-fatal nerve agent attack.
Alexei Navalny has blamed President Vladimir Putin for the attack and says the charges against him are fabricated.
However, the Kremlin denies any involvement in his poisoning.
Alexei Navalny was accused of breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement that required him to report regularly to Russian police.
In court, in a speech that referenced both the Bible and the Harry Potter series, the activist argued the charges were “absurd” as he was unable to report to the police while recovering from the nerve agent attack.
He said: “The whole world knew where I was.
“Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home.”
However, the judge rejected Navalny’s case and he will return to the penal colony where he is serving his time. The judge did, though, cut his six weeks off the nearly three-year sentence imposed.
Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail for violating the conditions of a suspended sentence, a Moscow court ruled on February 2.
The prominent Putin critic has been in detention since returning to Russia last month. He had been treated in Germany for a near-fatal nerve agent attack against him in August.
Thousands of supporters have rallied across Russia in support of Alexei Navalny.
His suspended sentence for embezzlement has been converted into a jail term.
Alexei Navalny has already served a year under house arrest which will be deducted from the total.
He greeted the news with a resigned shrug. In court he called President Vladimir Putin a “poisoner”, blaming him for the attack.
Alexei Navalny’s supporters called for an immediate protest and tried to gather outside court but the whole area was overrun with riot police. More than 300 have been detained, according to monitors.
His lawyer said they would appeal against the ruling.
Strong international reaction to the sentence came quickly, with the Council of Europe – the continent’s leading human rights body – saying the judgement “defied all credibility”.
The council’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement: “With this decision, the Russian authorities not only further exacerbate human rights violations as already established by the European Court of Human Rights, they also send a signal undermining the protection of the rights of all Russian citizens.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Alexei Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release, and said he would work closely with allies to hold Russia accountable for “failing to uphold the rights of its citizens”.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by telling Western countries to focus on their own problems.
She said on Russian TV: “You should not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”
Alexei Navalny has been accused of breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement that required him to report regularly to Russian police. His lawyers say the accusation is absurd as the authorities knew he was recovering in Berlin from the nerve agent attack that nearly killed him in Russia.
Addressing the court before the sentencing, Alexei Navalny said the case was being used to frighten the opposition: “This is how it works: they send one to jail to intimidate millions.”
On the Novichok chemical attack, Alexei Navalny said: “Using the FSB [Federal Security Service of Russia], Putin attempted to commit murder. I’m not the only one – many know this already and many others will. And this is driving the thieving little man in the bunker crazy.
“No matter how much he tries to look like a geopolitician, he took offence at me because he will go down in history as a poisoner.”
His return to Russia on January 17 triggered mass protests in support of him, many of them young Russians who have only ever experienced President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack on Alexei Navalny, and rejects the conclusion by Western experts that Novichok – a Russian chemical weapon – was used.
Alexei Navalny accuses President Putin of running an administration riddled with corruption, and recently released a YouTube video featuring an opulent Black Sea palace which, he alleged, was a Russian billionaires’ gift to the president.
On January 30, Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire businessman close to President Putin, said he owned the palace and had bought it two years ago.
On January 31, some protesters brandished gold-colored toilet brushes, a symbol of their anger about the palace. For a second weekend, crowds defied bitter cold and a massive deployment of riot police, and more than 5,000 were arrested, according to OVD-Info group.
OVD-Info says it is an independent Russian media project, which gets crowd-funding in Russia and its donors include the Memorial human rights group and the European Commission.
Alexei Navalny is already serving a 30-day sentence in connection with the embezzlement case, which he denounces as politically motivated.
In recent days police have arrested many of Navalny’s top aides, who assist him in his Anti-Corruption Network (FBK).
President Joe Biden has raised election meddling in his first call with Russian Vladimir Putin, the White House says.
The phone conversation also included a discussion about the ongoing opposition protests in Russia.
A Kremlin statement did not refer to any points of friction, saying the call was “businesslike and frank”.
Both sides reportedly agreed to extend the countries’ last remaining nuclear deal during the call.
Former President Donald Trump sometimes undercut his own administration’s tough posture on Russia and was accused by some of being too deferential to Vladimir Putin.
However, Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama – under whom Joe Biden served as vice-president – was also criticized for failing to check Russia as it annexed Crimea, supported rebel forces in eastern Ukraine and backed the government of war-torn Syria.
The White House said in a statement: “President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”
The two presidents also discussed the massive SolarWinds cyber-attack, which has been blamed on Moscow; reports that the Kremlin placed bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan; and the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
According to the Kremlin statement, the Russian president had “noted that the normalization of relations between Russia and the United States would meet the interests of both countries and – taking into account their special responsibility for maintaining security and stability in the world – of the entire international community”.
Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin also discussed the New Start treaty, an Obama-era accord that limits the amounts of warheads, missiles and launchers in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.
The treaty had been due to expire on February 5, but both sides reportedly agreed to extend the treaty during January 26 call.
The Trump administration, however, had refused to sign it and talks over an extension stalled.
On January 27, the Russian parliament ratified a five-year extension of the treaty. President Putin said the move was a “step in the right direction” to reducing global tensions.
Hundreds of protesters have been detained in Russia as police try to stop nationwide protests in support of jailed activist Alexei Navalny.
Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said she had been detained at a protest in the capital Moscow, where officers were breaking up the demonstrations.
Thousands of people have already taken part in rallies in Russia’s Far East.
Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last weekend.
The opposition leader was detained on January 17 after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.
On his return, Alexei Navalny was immediately taken into custody and found guilty of violating parole conditions. He says it is a trumped-up case designed to silence him, and called on his supporters to protest.
Several of Navalny’s close aides, including a spokeswoman, have also been detained in the run up to January 23 protests.
Prior to the rallies, Russian authorities had promised a tough crackdown, with police saying any unauthorized demonstrations and provocations would be “immediately suppressed”.
OVD Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said that more than 800 people had been detained so far in protests across the country.
Thousands are currently attending a protest in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square, where police have erected metal barriers to deter demonstrators.
Russia’s interior ministry said 4,000 had turned up in Moscow, but opposition sources say it may be as high as 15,000.
One witness told Reuters at least 100 people may have been detained there already.
Among them is Lyubov Sobol, a prominent aide of Alexei Navalny who had already been fined for urging Russians to join the protests. Lyubov Sobol tweeted a video of police roughly pulling her away from an interview with reporters.
Yulia Navalnya also said she was being held by police at the same protest, posting an image on her Instagram account with the caption: “Apologies for the poor quality. Very bad light in the police van.”
Several of Alexei Navalny’s key aides had already been taken into police custody in the days leading up to January 23 protests, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.
Prominent Navalny activists are also being held in the cities of Krasnodar, Vladivostok and Novosibirsk.
Alexei Navalny has been detained after flying back to Russia five months after he was nearly killed by a nerve agent attack last year.
The 44-year-old Kremlin critic was seen being led away by police at passport control.
Big crowds earlier gathered at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport to greet his flight from Berlin but the plane was rerouted.
Alexei Navalny says the authorities were behind the attempt on his life, an allegation backed up by investigative journalists but denied by the Kremlin.
European Council President Charles Michel described Alexei Navalny’s detainment as “unacceptable”.
He tweeted: “I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him.”
Alexei Navalny told his supporters and the media at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport just minutes before his detention: “I know that I’m right. I fear nothing.”
His lawyer was not allowed to accompany Alexei Navalny. He kissed his wife Yulia – who had flown with him from Germany – after police officers warned they would use physical force if he disobeyed their orders.
On January 17, extra riot police were deployed and metal barriers erected inside Vnukovo airport, where the plane had been originally scheduled to land.
Russian media reported that a number of activists – including key Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol – were detained.
Alexei Navalny – who received medical treatment in Germany after his poisoning – urged supporters to meet him off the flight. Thousands of people said they would go or expressed an interest, despite forecasts of extreme cold and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The activist collapsed on an internal flight in Siberia last August, and it later emerged he had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities have consistently denied any role in the poisoning, and the Kremlin has rejected Alexei Navalny’s claims that President Vladimir Putin himself ordered it.
In a statement late on January 17, Russia’s penitentiary service said Alexei Navalny “had been wanted since December 29, 2020, for repeated violations of the probation period”.
The penitentiary service added that he would remain in custody until a court decision.
The authorities accuse Alexei Navalny of violating conditions imposed after a conviction for embezzlement, for which he received a suspended sentence. He has always said the case was politically motivated.
Separately, Russian prosecutors have launched a new criminal case against the activist on fraud charges related to transfers of money to various NGOs, including his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Alexei Navalny has asserted that President Vladimir Putin is doing all he can to stop his opponent from coming back by fabricating new cases against him.
Kira Yarmysh also wrote: “All morning journalists have been writing to me and asking, is it true that Alexei plans to return to Russia?
“Again I can confirm to everyone: no other options were ever considered.”
The announcement came shortly after Alexei Navalny took to Instagram.
He wrote: “Hi, this is Navalny. I have been missing you. I still can’t do much, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day.
“Just on my own, no extra help, not even a valve in my throat. I liked it very much. It’s a remarkable process that is underestimated by many. Strongly recommended.”
There is a modest police presence outside the hospital where Alexei Navalny is being treated.
There are two armed officers by one entrance and a police van that has been stationed outside for days.
Unconfirmed reports in German media suggest two further armed police units have been set up inside – outside the ward and by Navalny’s bed.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has ruled out a meeting between Alexei Navalny and President Putin after the opposition figure recovers.
“We do not see the need for such a meeting, so I believe that such a meeting will not take place,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Alexei Navalny, 44, is an anti-corruption campaigner who has long been the most prominent face of opposition to Vladimir Putin.
His supporters believe his tea was spiked at Tomsk airport on August 20.
Alexei Navalny became ill during the flight, and the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. Russian officials were persuaded to allow Navalny to be airlifted to Germany two days later.
A nerve agent from the Novichok group was also used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, in England, in 2018. They both survived, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after coming into contact with the poison.
Britain accused Russia’s military intelligence of carrying out that attack. Twenty countries expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats and spies.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been moved to Germany from Siberia for medical treatment.
The prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin is in a coma after drinking what his supporters suspect was poisoned tea; they accuse the authorities of trying to conceal a crime.
Doctors treating Alexei Navalny in Omsk had insisted on August 21 that he was too ill to be moved.
However, they later said his condition was stable enough for the flight. His wife Yulia Navalnaya is traveling with him.
On August 22, Alexei Navalny’s medical evacuation flight – paid for by the German non-governmental organization Cinema for Peace – landed at Tegel airport in Berlin. He is being treated at the Charité hospital in the German capital.
The founder of the Cinema for Peace Foundation, activist and filmmaker Jaka Bizilj, told reporters outside the hospital that Alexei Navalny’s condition was “very worrying”.
“It’s not only about the question if he will survive this,” Jaka Bizilj said.
“It’s a question what kind of damage there is, if he will survive this and come back to normal fully.”
Alexei Navalny’s personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilieva, was not allowed to see him while he was in hospital in Russia. But she said she was hopeful he could recover now that he was in Germany.
She said: “I’m sure that they can treat him and do everything to eliminate this toxic agent from his body.”
Medical staff treating Alexei Navalny at the hospital in Omsk said before his flight that his life was not in immediate danger.
His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, earlier tweeted: “Massive thanks to everyone for their support. The struggle for Alexei’s life and health is just beginning.”
Kira Yarmysh said it was a pity that doctors had taken so long to approve his flight as the plane and the right documents had been ready since August 21.
Alexei Navalny fell ill during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, and his plane made an emergency landing in Omsk.
A photograph on social media appeared to show the Russian opposition leader drinking from a cup at a Tomsk airport cafe before the flight. His team suspects a poisonous substance was put in his tea.
Disturbing video appeared to show a stricken Alexei Navalny howling in agony on the flight.
The head doctor at the hospital where Navalny was being treated in Omsk, Alexander Murakhovsky, warned late on August 21 that doctors did not recommend flying “but his wife insists on her husband being transferred to a German clinic”.
“The patient’s condition is stable,” deputy chief doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
“As we’re in possession of a request from relatives to permit him to be transported somewhere, we have now taken the decision that we do not object to his transfer to another in-patient facility,” he added.
Doctors said earlier that no poison had been found in Alexei Navalny’s body, suggesting his condition might be the result of a “metabolic disorder” caused by low blood sugar.
Health officials then indicated that traces of an industrial chemical had been found on his skin and hair. The local interior ministry told the Rapsi legal news agency that the chemical was usually included in polymers to improve their elasticity, but its concentration was impossible to establish.
Alexei Navalny has consistently exposed official corruption in Russia. He has served multiple jail terms.
Foreign leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have expressed concern for him.
In the US, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has described the incident as “unacceptable” and vowed that, if elected, he would “stand up to autocrats like Putin”.
Russia has agreed to offer security assistance to Belarus in the case of external military threats, President Alexander Lukashenko has said.
President Lukashenko also voiced concerns over NATO military exercises taking place in neighboring Poland and Lithuania.
The news comes as the embattled Belarusian president faces mass protests over the disputed August 9 election.
Thousands of Belarusians gathered outside state television on August 15, demanding full coverage of the demonstrations.
The unrest erupted after Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in last week’s election, the result of which has been condemned amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging.
The Central Election Commission says Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1% of the vote and the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.12%.
However, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60% to 70%.
As the unrest continued on August 15, President Lukashenko sought help from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Lukashenko said President Putin had promised to provide what he called comprehensive assistance in the event of external military threats to Belarus.
The announcement came the day after EU foreign ministers agreed to prepare new sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for “falsification”. The US has also condemned the election as “not free and fair”.
In a joint statement on August 15, the prime ministers of three Baltic republics – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – “expressed deep concern at the violent crackdown… and the political repression of the opposition by the authorities”.
Latvia and Lithuania have previously said they are prepared to mediate in Belarus, provided the authorities stopped violence against protesters and formed a national council with members of civil society. They warned that the alternative was sanctions.
The Baltic leaders said the Belarusian presidential election was “neither free nor fair” and called for a “transparent” vote “with the participation of international observers”.
“The prime ministers urge the Belarusian authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful demonstrators [and to] release all political prisoners and those that have been detained,” the statement added.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left for Lithuania following the election after she publicly denounced the results. She had sent her children to Lithuania for safety before the vote.
Some 6,700 people were arrested in the wake of the election, and many have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services.
Amnesty International said accounts from released detainees suggested “widespread torture”.
Demonstrations have continued following Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s call for further peaceful rallies on August 14.
Some 100 staff came out of the state television building to join August 15 protests, saying they planned a strike on August 17, AFP reports. Others have signed a letter in support of a strike.
On election day, Belarusian state channels aired the voices of Lukashenko supporters and did not cover the demonstrations. State TV later showed footage of violence to blame protesters and warn people not to participate.
Several journalists have resigned over the coverage.
A “March for Freedom” is also planned in the center of Minsk on August 16, a week after the contested election.
The majority of Russian voters backed constitutional reforms that could keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2036, election officials say.
According to electoral commission, with all the ballots counted, 77.9% voted for the reform package and 21.3% against.
The reforms will reset Vladimir Putin’s term limits to zero in 2024, allowing him to serve two more six-year terms.
Opposition figures denounced the vote, saying Vladimir Putin was aiming to be “president for life”, a claim the Russian president denies.
Vladimir Putin is already the longest-serving leader in modern Russian history since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
There was no independent scrutiny of the seven-day vote, and copies of the new constitution appeared in bookshops during the week.
By spreading out the vote, because of the coronavirus infection risk, the authorities made any monitoring of it more difficult.
Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny described the results as a “big lie” which did not reflect real public opinion in the country.
Golos, an independent Russian election monitoring group, has castigated the vote, alleging there were many violations of democracy.
Its criticisms include: opponents were barred from campaigning in the media; remote electronic voting was organized on an illegal basis; election monitors were appointed by the Civic Chamber – a government body.
Golos describes it as “just a PR exercise from the very start” and says “there was no legal need for it”. The vote “will go down in history as an attack on the sovereignty of the people”.
The reforms include a ban on same-sex marriage – by defining marriage as between a man and a woman – and introducing a reference to Russia’s ancestral “faith in God”.
According to election officials, turnout was 65%. The highest levels of support – above 90% – were in Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, in Chechnya in the North Caucasus, and Tuva, in Siberia.
Vladimir Putin, aged 67, has not said he will run again for the presidency when his latest term runs out in 2024 – but has said it is vital he has the option to do so.
He has been in power in Russia, either as president or prime minister, for 20 years.
Vladimir Putin and his supporters say the reforms – more than 200 changes – are needed to ensure national stability.
In New York, 816 voted at the Russian consulate and 505 rejected the reforms, while 310 voted for. The other voting district where a majority were against was Nenets, in Russia’s remote Arctic.
Preliminary results were released hours before the last polling stations closed at 18:00 GMT in the western enclave of Kaliningrad, in the vast country spanning 11 time zones.
Before the vote had ended, the internal affairs ministry said there had been no violations that could affect the result, Interfax reported. However, Golos said it had received some 2,100 reports of possible violations.
Several hundred opponents of the constitutional changes staged protests in Moscow and St Petersburg.
The final results show 65% voted yes to the reforms in Moscow, and 77.6% in St Petersburg.
Both Russia’s houses of parliament have already adopted the changes, but President Putin ordered a public vote in a bid to legitimize the reforms. The vote was delayed from April due to the coronavirus outbreak.
As a measure to stop the spread of the new
coronavirus, Russia is beginning what President Vladimir Putin called a
The Russian government is urging people to stay at home, though mixed
messaging has left many people confused.
According to officials, the new restrictions could be extended beyond April
5, depending on the health situation.
The number of Russians infected with Covid-19 passed 1,000 on March 27, with
most cases detected in Moscow.
Based on that figure, the Kremlin spokesman has stressed that there is
“de facto no epidemic” here, comparing Russia’s position favorably
with the crisis in Europe.
Whilst state TV’s rolling news channel has changed its name to We’re Staying Home – broadcasting from
presenters’ living rooms – many people are struggling to adjust after its
previous insistence that Covid-19 was a “foreign threat”.
When President Putin announced a
paid week off work for all, there was a rush to book holidays.
The governor of Krasnodar region,
which includes the Black Sea resort of Sochi, had to order the closure of all
shopping centers, parks and restaurants – and limit flights – after hotel
Many Moscow residents have already
headed out of town to their dachas, or summer houses.
In the Russian capital, there has
been a noticeable increase in people in facemasks on the streets since
President Putin’s national address.
Supermarket staff have begun wearing
them and there are bottles of hand sanitizer in coffee shops.
Food stores will remain open, as well as other essential services, but from this weekend cafes and restaurants can offer takeaway only.
Later on March 25, Russia confirmed
the deaths of two people who had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
According to Ria Novosti, the 88- and 73-year-olds had pre-existing conditions.
Russia has a total of 658 cases.
President Putin said: “The absolute priority for us is the
health, life and safety of people. Therefore I believe that the vote should be
postponed until a later date.”
He also announced that Russians would not work next week “to slow the
speed” of the infection.
However, the Russian leader warned that it was impossible to prevent any
spread of the virus at all in Russia because of the country’s size.
The Russian economy was also under serious pressure because of the virus, he
During their week off, employees would continue to be paid and key services
would continue, Vladimir Putin said.
The president also announced extended welfare support, including for families
with children and those who had lost jobs.
Russia has already taken measures such as 14-day quarantine for people
arriving from abroad, school closures and warning for elderly people in Moscow
It has also stopped cultural and sporting events and closed gyms, theaters
and nightclubs, although cafes and restaurants have been allowed to stay open.
Russia has so far stopped short of imposing the kind of lockdown seen in
some European countries.
There have been more than 435,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now the center of the global outbreak.
Russian PM Dmitry Mevedev has announced that
his government is resigning, hours after President Vladimir Putin proposed
sweeping constitutional changes that could prolong his stay in power.
If approved by the public, the proposals would transfer power from the
presidency to parliament.
President Putin is due to step down in 2024 when his fourth term of office
comes to an end.
However, there is speculation he could seek a new role or hold on to power
behind the scenes.
President Putin put forward his plans in his annual state of the nation
address to lawmakers. Later, in an unexpected move, PM Dmitry Medvedev
announced that the government was resigning to help facilitate the changes.
Vladimir Putin said during a speech
to both chambers of parliament that there would be a nationwide vote on changes
that would shift power from the presidency to parliament.
Constitutional reforms included
giving the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, “greater
responsibility” for the appointment of the prime minister and the cabinet.
Currently, the president appoints
the prime minister and government ministers, and the Duma approves the
Presidnet Putin also suggested an
increased role for an advisory body called the State Council. The council,
which is currently chaired by Vladimir Putin, comprises the heads of Russia’s
federal regions. President Putin said it had proved to be “highly
Other measures include:
Limiting the supremacy of international law
Amending the rules that limit presidents to two
Strengthening laws that prohibit presidential
candidates who have held foreign citizenship or foreign residency permits
PM Dmitry Medvedev made his announcement on state TV with President Putin sitting next to him.
He said: “These changes, when they are adopted… will introduce
substantial changes not only to an entire range of articles of the
constitution, but also to the entire balance of power, the power of the
executive, the power of the legislature, the power of judiciary.
“In this context… the government in its current form
Vladimir Putin thanked Dmitry Medvedev
for his work but said “not everything” had been accomplished.
He asked the prime minister to
become deputy head of the National Security Council, which is chaired by the
Vladimir Putin later nominated tax
service chief Mikhail Mishustin to replace Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.
Dmitry Medvedev has been prime minister for several years. He previously
served as president from 2008-2012, switching roles with Vladimir Putin – a
close ally – after the latter served his first two terms as president. Russia’s
constitution only allows presidents to serve two consecutive terms.
Even when he was prime minister, Vladimir Putin was widely seen as the power
behind then President Medvedev.
Opposition leader and leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he believed
that any referendum on the constitutional changes would be “fraudulent
crap”. He said Vladimir Putin’s goal was to be “sole leader for
The last time Russia held a referendum was in 1993 when it adopted the
constitution under President Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor.
Vladimir Putin became acting president following Boris Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999 and was formally inaugurated a year later. He has held the reins of power – as president or prime minister – ever since.
President Putin and President Trump have spoken on the phone and in person
various times since the latter took office.
Records from the conversations show
they have often talked about Syria, as well as nuclear agreements, North Korea
In December 2017, Vladimir Putin
thanked President Trump for another warning from US intelligence agencies,
which again apparently prevented a terrorist plot in St Petersburg, according
to a White House account.
During that call, the Kremlin said
President Putin had promised to reciprocate with information about terrorist
threats to the US.
The US and Russian relations
plummeted after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from neighboring Ukraine
They were also strained when US
intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016
Despite this, Donald Trump and
Vladimir Putin have appeared to be on good terms personally – and they have
vowed to co-operate on terrorism.
President Trump has indicated he is considering attending the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow next May, after an invitation from President Putin.
The man who opened fire at the Federal Security
Service (FSB) headquarters in Moscow has been identified as a 39-year-old loner
and gun enthusiast, Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.
According to Russian police, Yevgeny Manyurov is from Podolsk, about 25
miles south of Moscow. On December 19, the gunman killed an FSB officer and
wounded five others with an automatic weapon, before a sniper shot him dead.
One of the wounded is a civilian.
At the moment of the attack, President Vladimir Putin was at a gala evening
honoring the FSB at the Kremlin, a couple of miles away.
The shooting happened at the entrance of the Lubyanka, the FSB headquarters
which used to house the Soviet KGB.
On December 19, police searched Yevgeny Manyurov’s flat, which he had shared
with his mother, and they detained her for questioning.
Yevgeny Manyurov had worked as a security guard but lost his job recently
and never had any visits from friends, Russian media quote his mother as
saying. Police found five guns at the flat – legally registered and kept in a
safe – along with a large quantity of ammunition.
He once trained as a lawyer and did some legal consulting work, reports say.
Yevgeny Manyurov practiced shooting regularly at a gun club, which was a
passion for him, his mother is quoted as saying.
She also said she had heard him speaking English on the phone with some
“Arabs”, who had started calling him since he had lost his security
According to Kommersant newspaper, when he opened fire, Yevgeny Manyurov “was shouting slogans typical of Islamic State”. The publication says the information came from a security source, who quoted witnesses questioned by police.
The first “foreign agent” law, introduced in 2012, targeted non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including charities and civil society groups, which get foreign funding and engage in political activity in Russia.
In 2015 Russia’s justice ministry listed Memorial
– a distinguished chronicler of human rights abuses – as a “foreign
The anti-corruption organization of anti-Putin campaigner Alexei Navalny has
also been declared a “foreign agent”.
Groups, and now individuals, labeled as “foreign agents” have to
put that label on their publications and submit detailed paperwork to the
authorities, or face fines for not doing so.
The media law was steered through parliament’s lower house – the Duma – by
lawmakers Leonid Levin and Pyotr Tolstoy.
Leonid Levin explained that for an individual to be labeled a “foreign
agent” two criteria must be valid: they must be producing or spreading
material from a “foreign agent” media source, and they must be
getting foreign funding.
He said that re-tweeting “foreign agent” news would only make an
individual a “foreign agent” too if he or she was also receiving
There has been a chorus of disapproval from human rights groups for the new
OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Désir said the law “represents
a disproportionate interference in the freedom of expression and media
Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS),
said the legislation “imposes an additional administrative and financial
burden, as well as stigmatizes the media or NGO concerned, thus restricting the
exercise of fundamental freedoms”.
She said: “Taking into account
the already limited space for free media in the country, a further extension of
the scope of the legislation is yet another worrying step against free and
independent media and access to information, as well as a further attempt to
silence independent voices in Russia.”
According to Amnesty International the new law “will have a detrimental impact on the already restrictive environment for independent journalism in Russia, and must be dropped”.
Hundreds of people were arrested
during a pro-Golunov rally in central Moscow on June 12, many of them bearing
the same slogan as the newspapers.
The interior minister announced the suspension of officers involved in the
case on June 11, saying that the reporter’s guilt “had not been
President Vladimir Putin has avoided commenting on the case, although his
spokesman said earlier in the week that the Kremlin had been keeping a close
eye on it.
He will appear before the Russian public in the annual “Direct
Line” phone-in on June 20, when Russians are given the chance to speak to
Russian commentators have suggested the Kremlin is keen for the story to
disappear before the event.
Ivan Golunov was stopped last week while on his way to meet another
journalist in Moscow. Police officers said they found the drug mephedrone in
his bag, and more drugs and weighing scales in a search of his home.
The journalist’s lawyers and press freedom activists said the drugs had been
planted in order to silence the investigative journalist.
Ivan Golunov’s supporters immediately claimed that he was innocent and a victim of false drugs charges used against opposition figures and human rights activists by the Russian state.
On November 29, President Poroshenko announced that Russians living in Ukraine would soon face restrictions on bank withdrawals, changing foreign currency and travelling abroad.
The incident happened on November 25, when two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug were sailing from Odessa to the port of Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov – which is shared between Russia and Ukraine.
The ships were stopped from entering the Kerch Strait and confronted by FSB border guards. After a lengthy standoff, during which the Ukrainian tug was rammed, the vessels began turning back towards Odessa, the Ukrainian government says.
The Russians opened fire, wounding at least three sailors, and seized the Ukrainian flotilla.
The Kerch Strait separates Russia from Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula that was annexed by Russia in 2014.
However, Ukraine says Russia is deliberately blockading Mariupol and another Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov, Berdyansk.
The 24 captured Ukrainian sailors have now been given two months in pre-trial detention by a court in Crimea.
President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a peace conference – the Paris Peace Forum – with leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On November 10, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel visited the town of Compiègne in northern France. They signed a book of remembrance in a railway carriage identical to the one in which the 1918 Armistice was sealed.
President Donald Trump caused controversy by canceling a trip to a cemetery for the war dead because of bad weather.
A group of around 50 activist organizations held a demonstration in Paris in protest against President Trump’s visit.
President Donald Trump has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit the US, in a move that drew startled laughter from US intelligence chief Dan Coats.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said when he was told about the invitation during a live interview: “That’s gonna be special!”
President Trump’s presidency has been clouded by allegations that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 US presidential election in his favor. However, the Kremlin denies the allegations.
At the Helsinki summit, President Putin offered access to 12 Russians indicted in absentia by the US authorities over the alleged interference, on condition the Russian authorities could question 12 Americans over a different case. President Trump first praised the suggestion as “incredible” but later rejected it.
Since his return from Finland, President Trump or the White House have had to correct or clarify other comments regarding Russia, creating confusion and prompting the Democrats to demand details of his private talks with President Putin.
Vladimir Putin, in power in Russia since 2000, last visited the US in 2015, when he met President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
On July 19, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that discussions about a visit by Vladimir Putin to Washington DC this autumn were already under way.
Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said Russia had always been open to the idea of a visit but it was “up to the Kremlin to decide how many summits are needed, and when”.
The announcement appeared to come as a surprise to US intelligence chief Dan Coats, who was told about it during a live interview at the Aspen Security Forum in the state of Colorado.
Dan Coats added that he did not yet know what President Trump and President Putin had discussed during their meeting, at which only the pair and their interpreters were present.
At the post-summit news conference in Helsinki, President Putin was asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in the US for hacking Democratic Party computers.
No extradition treaty exists between the US and Russia, but Vladimir Putin said he would meet the US government “halfway”.
President Putin said that US investigators could question the 12 suspects inside Russia if, in turn, Russian investigators were allowed to question US citizens with regard to a case against financier Bill Browder.
Bill Browder was instrumental in the US imposing sanctions in 2012 on top Russian officials accused of corruption in the Magnitsky affair.
One of the Americans on Russia’s list is a former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.
The idea of allowing Russia to quiz US citizens sparked outrage and the Senate voted 98-0 against it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “not going to happen”.
Michael McFaul tweeted his gratitude to the Senate: “98-0. Bipartisanship is not dead yet in the US Senate. Thank you all for your support.”
At the news conference in Helsinki, President Trump said: “He [Vladimir Putin] offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigations with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Now, however, President Trump says he “disagrees” with President Putin’s proposal.
He has also clarified remarks at the news conference in which he said he saw no reason for Russia to have meddled in the 2016 US election – despite US intelligence concluding just that.
Speaking to CBS News on July 18, President Trump said he held Vladimir Putin personally responsible for interfering in the election, and that he was “very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling”.
Vladimir Putin has also described the summit as “successful” but warned “there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually sacrifice Russian-US relations”.
At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to allegations of meddling in the election.
He replied: “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
President Trump also blamed poor relations with Russia on past US administrations rather than Russian actions.
US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorized campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.
President Trump later backtracked, tweeting that he had “great confidence in my intelligence people”.
He tweeted: “As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated a highly controversial bridge between the mainland Russia and annexed Crimea.
The $3.7 billion bridge has been a flagship political project for Russia as it seeks to cement its hold on to the territory it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The Kerch Strait bridge was opened in a typically hands-on fashion by the Russian leader. By driving a truck.
The 12 mile (19km)-bridge, now the longest in Europe, is the only direct road link with Russia. It links Russia’s Krasnodar region with Crimean peninsula. Its opening marks the physical “reunification” of Crimea with Russia mainland.
Once fully completed, the road and rail link will be able to handle 40,000 cars a day and to move 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year, according to RIA Novosti.
Russian special forces seized Crimea in a lightning operation in February 2014. The West responded with crippling economic sanctions.
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