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Posts tagged ‘Sovinoya Land of Russia’

Russia and Ukraine trade prisoners, each fly 35 to freedom

September 07, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and Ukraine conducted a major prisoner exchange that freed 35 people detained in each country and flew them to the other, a deal that could help advance Russia-Ukraine relations and end five years of fighting in Ukraine’s east.

The trade involved some of the highest-profile prisoners caught up in a bitter standoff between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy greeted the freed prisoners as they stepped down from the airplane that had brought them from Moscow to Kyiv’s Boryspil airport. Relatives waiting on the tarmac surged forward to hug their loved ones.

Most of the ex-detainees appeared to be in good physical condition, although one struggled down the steps on crutches and another was held by the arms as he slowly navigated the steps. Among those Russia returned was Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, whose conviction for preparing terrorist attacks was strongly denounced abroad, and 24 Ukrainian sailors taken with a ship the Russian navy seized last year.

“Hell has ended; everyone is alive and that is the main thing,” Vyacheslav Zinchenko, 30, one of the released sailors, said. The prisoners released by Ukraine included Volodymyr Tsemakh, who commanded a separatist rebel air defense unit in the area of eastern Ukraine where a Malaysian airliner was shot down in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard.

Dozens of lawmakers urged Ukraine’s president not to make Tsemakh one of their country’s 35 traded prisoners. Critics saw freeing Tsemakh as an act of submissiveness to Russia, but the exchange “allows Zelenskiy to fulfill one of his main pre-election promises,” Ukrainian analyst Vadim Karasev told The Associated Press

Zelenskiy, who was elected in a landslide in April, has promised new initiatives to resolve the war in eastern Ukraine between government troops and the separatist rebels. The exchange of prisoners also raises hope in Russia for the reduction of European sanctions imposed because of its role in the conflict, Karasev said. Russia also is under sanctions for its annexation of Crimea in 2014, shortly before the separatist conflict in the east began, but that dispute is unlikely to be resolved.

At Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, the released prisoners remained on the plane for about 15 minutes for unknown reasons. When they came off, many toting baggage, a bus drove them to a medical facility for examination.

Russia said it would release a full list of its citizens freed by Ukraine but had not done so by Saturday night. The 24 sailors in the swap were seized after Russian ships fired on two Ukrainian vessels on Nov. 25 in the Kerch Strait, located between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov next to Russia-annexed Crimea.

Another passenger on the plane from Moscow was Nikolai Karpyuk, who was imprisoned in 2016 after he was convicted of killing Russians in Chechnya in the 1990s. “Russia was not able to break me even though they tried hard to do this,” Karpyuk said in Kyiv.

Kirill Vyshinsky, head of Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti’s Ukraine branch, also had a seat. Vyshinsky had been jailed since 2018 on treason charges. He thanked Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe, for calling for his release.

The exchange comes amid renewed hope that a solution can be found to the fighting in Ukraine’s east that has killed 13,000 people since 2014. A congratulatory tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump called the trade “good news.”

“Russia and Ukraine just swapped large numbers of prisoners. Very good news, perhaps a first giant step to peace,” Trump’s tweet said. “Congratulations to both countries!” However, reaching a peace agreement faces many obstacles, such as determining the final territorial status of rebel-held areas. Russia insists it has not supported the rebels and the fighting is Ukraine’s internal affair.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement welcoming the exchange touched on those difficulties, calling the war an “intra-Ukraine conflict.” “Obviously, the habit of blaming Russia for all the troubles of Ukraine should remain in the past,” the ministry statement said.

The prospect of progress nevertheless appeared to rise last month with the announcement of a planned summit of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany – the four countries with representatives in the long-dormant “Normandy format,” a group seeking to end the conflict.

“We have made the first step. It was very complicated. Further, we will come closer to the return of our (war) prisoners,” Zelenskiy said of the prisoner exchange. In July, a tentative agreement for the release of 69 Ukrainian prisoners and 208 held in Ukraine was reached by the Trilateral Contact Group of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; negotiations on fulfilling it continue.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign relations committee in the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the exchange represented a move “in the direction of crossing from confrontation to dialogue, and one can only thank those thanks to whose strength this became possible.”

Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed to this story.

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Ukraine, Poland want continued sanctions on Russia

August 31, 2019

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday he and Poland’s president have agreed that sanctions ought to continue against Russia until Ukraine regains the territory it lost in Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Zelenskiy, accompanied by some members of his Cabinet, was on his first visit to Poland as president for political talks and to attend ceremonies planned for Sunday to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II.

He said he and Polish President Andrzej Duda had discussed the next steps needed to end the war in eastern Ukraine and to return the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine. “We have agreed on our next steps to stop the war in eastern Ukraine and to bring back occupied Crimea,” said Zelenskiy, who was a comedian who starred on a popular sitcom before his election in April.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in a move that Ukraine and almost all of the world views as illegal. The European Union and the U.S. imposed sanctions. In eastern Ukraine, a deadly conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has gone on for five years.

Zelenskiy said his and Duda’s “joint and principal position” is that the EU “sanctions should be reviewed only to be increased- not otherwise” unless existing peace agreements are fully implemented and “the territorial unity of Ukraine according to its internationally agreed borders” is restored.

Duda said he assured Zelenskiy of his support for continuing sanctions on Russia and protecting “Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.” Duda said especially in the context of Sunday’s World War II anniversary, “We must stress how very important it is that no one, in Europa or in the world, is allowed to change borders by force.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and dozens of world leaders also will take part in the anniversary ceremonies in Warsaw. The invasion of Poland by Nazi German troops on Sept. 1, 1939 marks the outbreak of World War II.

Poland remained under Nazi German occupation for more than five years and lost some 6 million citizens.

Russian opposition figure re-arrested upon release

August 28, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent Russian opposition figure has been detained by police for the fifth consecutive time after he served four sentences in jail connected to protests in Moscow. Ilya Yashin was initially jailed for 10 days in July for taking part in an unsanctioned rally but was detained upon his release three times after that and sentenced to 10 days each time for calling for more protests. The Moscow municipal deputy was detained again as he was walking out of the detention facility on Wednesday afternoon. He hasn’t had a court hearing yet.

The 36-year-old Yashin is one of the nearly two dozen independent politicians who were denied a place on the Sept. 8 ballot for Moscow’s city council legislature. Their exclusion has sparked a series of protests in Moscow.

Turkey’s Erdogan visits Russian air show as Putin’s guest

August 27, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — In a show of burgeoning security ties between Russia and Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the opening of an annual Russian air show as a guest of President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and expressed interest in purchasing the latest Russian fighter jets.

NATO member Turkey started taking deliveries last month of Russia’s S-400 air defense system. The United States had pushed Erdogan’s government to scrap the deal, arguing that its purchase would aid Russian intelligence and compromise a U.S.-led fighter jet program.

Erdogan has refused to budge despite the Trump administration kicking Turkey out of the multinational program to produce the high-tech F-35 fighter. Turkish officials have dangled the idea of buying Russian Su-35 fighter jets instead.

While visiting the MAKS air show outside Moscow together, the Turkish leader and Putin called each other “dear friend” and watched Russia’s latest jets perform. Erdogan peeked inside the cockpit of the country’s top-of-the-line fighter, the Su-57, and asked if the plane was available for sale to foreign customers.

“Yes, you can buy it,” Putin responded with a smile. The Russian president noted that another batch of equipment under the S-400 contract with Turkey, estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, was delivered Tuesday. He said Russia was ready to supply its latest fighter jets to Turkey as well and open to joint production of some weapons systems.

“We are ready for that and will actively discuss it with our partners,” Putin said. Erdogan said that the Turkish military was being trained to use the surface-to-air S-400 missile systems. “We want our solidarity to continue in several areas of the defense industry,” he added. “This can be passenger or war planes. What is important is the spirit of cooperation.”

While both leaders supported close economic cooperation between their countries, their discussion about joint efforts to end Syria’s civil war revealed differences in their approaches to the situation in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

Russia and Iran have staunchly supported Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government throughout the eight-year war, helping his army to recapture most of the country’s territory, while Turkey has backed the opposition.

Moscow and Ankara nevertheless struck a deal in September to de-escalate tensions in Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold. Tensions have heightened amid a recent offensive by Russia-backed Syrian troops to capture the rebel-held areas in Idlib.

Turkey protested the offensive, which has included seizing the town of Khan Sheikhoun and pushing further north. Erdogan on Tuesday described it as a violation of the de-escalation deal Russia and Turkey reached in Sochi. He said that more than 500 civilians have been killed and over 1,200 others have been wounded.

“It is unacceptable for the regime to rain death on civilians from the air and from the ground under the pretext of fighting terrorism,” Erdogan said. “We can bring about our responsibilities concerning the Sochi agreement only if the regime halts its attacks.”

Putin insisted the offensive was necessary to uproot militants who used the area as a base to launch attacks on Syrian government troops and Russia’s military base. “The de-escalation zone can’t serve as a refuge for militants and a platform for launching new attacks,” he said.

But despite their differences, both presidents emphasized their shared interest in stabilizing northern Syria and pledged to respect mutual security interests. “We understand Turkey’s concern about the security of its southern border and view it as Turkey’s legitimate interest,” Putin said.

Erdogan said after the talks that he and Putin have “reached an understanding what and how we can do to solve those issues in Syria.”

Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Russian capsule carrying robot fails space station docking

August 24, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian space capsule carrying a humanoid robot has failed to dock as planned with the International Space Station. A statement from the Russian space agency Roscosmos said the failure on Saturday was because of problems in the docking system. It said the space station itself and the six-person crew are safe.

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter that a new docking attempt would be made on Tuesday. The capsule was launched Thursday as part of tests of a new rocket that is expected to replace the Soyuz-FG next year.

It is carrying a robot called Fedor, which will perform two weeks of tests aboard the space station. Vladimir Solovyev, flight director for the Russian segment of the ISS, said the robot had not been taught how to manually conduct a docking.

Russian capsule carrying 3 docks with space station

July 21, 2019

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — A Russian space capsule with three astronauts aboard has docked with the International Space Station after a fast-track trip to the orbiting laboratory. The Soyuz capsule docked at 22:48 GMT Saturday, just six hours and 20 minutes after blasting off from Russia’s launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The launch took place on the 50th anniversary of the day U.S. astronauts landed on the moon. The capsule is carrying Andrew Morgan of the United States on his first spaceflight, Russian Alexander Skvortsov on his third mission to the space station and Italian Luca Parmitano.

They will join Russian Alexey Ovchinin and Americans Nick Hague and Christina Koch have been aboard since March. The crew patch for the expedition echoes the one from Apollo 11’s 1969 lunar mission.

Russia launches major new telescope into space after delays

July 13, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian Proton-M rocket successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit Saturday after days of launch delays, Russia’s space agency said. Roscosmos said the telescope, named Spektr-RG, was delivered into a parking orbit before a final burn Saturday that kicked the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and on to its final destination: the L2 Lagrange point.

Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it. Located 1.5 million kilometers (0.93 million miles) from Earth, L2 is particularly ideal for telescopes such as Spektr-RG.

If all goes well, the telescope will arrive at its designated position in three months, becoming the first Russian spacecraft to operate beyond Earth’s orbit since the Soviet era. The telescope aims to conduct a complete x-ray survey of the sky by 2025, the first space telescope to do so.

The Russian accomplishment comes as the U.S. space agency NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. Russian space science missions have suffered greatly since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Budget cuts have forced the Russian space program to shift toward more commercial efforts.

A Russian Mars probe, called Mars 96, failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 1996. A later attempt to send a probe to Mars, called Fobos-Grunt, suffered a similar fate in 2011. Work on Spektr-RG telescope began in the 1980s but was scrapped in the 1990s. Spektr-RG was revived in 2005 and redesigned to be smaller, simpler and cheaper.

In its modern form, the project is a close collaboration between Russian and German scientists, who both installed telescope equipment aboard the Russian spacecraft.

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