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Posts tagged ‘Sovinoya Land of Russia’

At last minute, Russia scrubs cargo launch to space station

February 11, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has scrubbed the planned launch of an unmanned cargo spacecraft that was to have delivered tons of supplies to the International Space Station. Preparations for the launch of the Progress ship from the Baikonur complex in Kazakhstan appeared to be proceeding smoothly Sunday until less than a minute before the liftoff.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said the launch was halted after an automated command, but said the reason for the command was under investigation. It said the launch is rescheduled for Tuesday. The Russian spacecraft carry fuel, food and other supplies to the ISS. This one was to have attempted a new fast route to the station, docking just 3.5 hours after launch after just two Earth orbits.

There are six astronauts currently aboard the ISS — two Russians, three Americans and one from Japan.

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France seeks closer ties with Russia despite Syria tensions

February 09, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed cooperating more closely to resolve the Syrian crisis in a phone call Friday, as France tries to smooth ties with Russia and move beyond years of tensions over Syria and Ukraine.

Macron is making his first presidential trip to Russia in May. The two leaders talked Friday about preparations for the visit, where Macron plans to attend the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and to meet with Putin.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin and Macron underlined during their call the need for developing closer cooperation on Syria. The statement did not elaborate. Macron’s office said he pushed for more robust Syrian peace talks — notably after a Russia-sponsored effort last month boycotted by the Syrian opposition.

Macron also pressed Putin to stop “intolerable degradation of the humanitarian situation” in regions of Syria that were pummeled by Syrian and Russian airstrikes in recent days, according to a statement from his office.

The presidents discussed another sore point in relations: the conflict in Ukraine. They stressed the need to enforce the 2015 Minsk peace agreement that was sponsored by France and Germany. Putin and Macron also hailed a potentially problematic project launched Friday to encourage contacts among Russian and French citizens. Called the Trianon Dialogue, the initiative appears aimed at minimizing European sanctions against Russia for its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The French-Russian project is aimed at encouraging interactions through joint theater productions, school trips, sister city agreements and real estate investments. Yet geopolitical tensions threaten to complicate the effort.

Among the Russians overseeing the Trianon Dialogue are magnate Gennady Timchenko, a longtime associate of Putin’s, and former railways chief Vladimir Yakunin — both targets of U.S. sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. A former ambassador who is an outspoken supporter of Russia’s bombings of Syria and annexation of Crimea also is involved.

An official in Macron’s office acknowledged that “we may run into difficulties” in juggling the project’s open-arms mission with today’s East-West tensions. The official said the French side would remain “vigilant” to prevent Putin’s administration from using the event for political ends.

Macron has remained publicly committed to the European Union’s sanctions on Russia, but the Trianon Dialogue could be seen as undermining them. Aides said he pushed for the project “to encourage Franco-Russian economic relations” despite curbs on trade prompted by the sanctions and a Russian embargo.

The French members of the project’s board all are from outside politics. They include an astronaut, a ballet star, the director of the Versailles Chateau and the CEOs of oil giant Total and car-sharing company Blablacar.

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

Putin, 7 rivals register for Russia’s presidential race

February 08, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s election officials have registered eight candidates for the March 18 presidential election, including President Vladimir Putin. With his approval ratings topping 80 percent and rivals trailing far behind, Putin is set to easily win a fourth term. Putin’s most vocal critic, the 41-year-old opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been barred from the race due to a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated.

Here is a quick look at the Russian presidential candidates.

VLADIMIR PUTIN

The 65-year-old Russian leader served two four-year presidential terms in 2000-2008 before shifting into the prime minister’s seat due to term limits. Putin continued calling the shots during the next four years as his longtime associate Dmitry Medvedev served as Russia’s president. Before stepping down to let Putin reclaim the top job in 2012, Medvedev initiated constitutional changes that extended the presidential term to six years.

A Putin victory in March would put him on track to become Russia’s longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. The legal limit of two consecutive presidential terms means that Putin won’t be able to run again in 2024, but many observers expect him to continue playing the top role in Russian politics even after that.

KSENIA SOBCHAK

The 36-year-old star TV host casts herself as a choice for those who have grown tired of Putin and his familiar challengers and want liberal changes. The daughter of Putin’s one-time patron, the late reformist mayor of St. Petersburg, she has assailed the Kremlin’s policies but largely avoided personal criticism of Putin.

Observers believe that Sobchak’s involvement in the race will help combat voter apathy and boost turnout to make Putin’s victory look more impressive. Some think she also could help the Kremlin counter Navalny’s calls to boycott the presidential vote and could split the ranks of the liberal opposition. Sobchak has denied being in collusion with the Kremlin.

PAVEL GRUDININ

The 57-year-old millionaire strawberry farm director has been nominated by the Communist Party, but he’s openly proud of his wealth and rejects basic Communist dogmas. Until 2010, Grudinin was a member of the main Kremlin party, United Russia. He has been openly critical of Russia’s current political and economic system, but avoided criticizing Putin. His nomination has been seen as an attempt by the Communists to broaden the party’s appeal beyond aging voters nostalgic for the Soviet Union.

VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY

The 71-year-old leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party has won notoriety for his xenophobic statements. This will be the sixth time he has run for president. While Zhirinovsky has catered to nationalist voters with his fiery populist rhetoric, he has steadfastly supported Putin and his party in parliament has invariably voted in line with the Kremlin’s wishes. He won 6 percent of the presidential vote in 2012.

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY

The 65-year-old liberal economic expert ran against Putin in the 2000 election, garnering about 6 percent of the vote. Yavlinsky has denounced the Kremlin’s policies and frequently criticized Putin, calling for more political freedoms and a more liberal economic course. His support base is a relatively small number of middle-aged and elderly liberal-minded voters in big Russian cities.

BORIS TITOV

Putin’s 57-year-old business ombudsman is running for president for the first time, nominated by a pro-business party. Before becoming an advocate for business, Titov had a successful career dealing in chemicals and fertilizers. His platform has focused on creating a more favorable business environment.

SERGEI BABURIN

The 59-year-old legal expert played a prominent role in Russian politics in the 1990s, opposing the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and becoming one of the leaders of a parliament rebellion against President Boris Yeltsin in 1993. He spent several stints in parliament and served as a deputy speaker of the lower house in the 1990s and the 2000s. After failing to make it to parliament in 2007, he left politics and served as the rector of a Moscow university. He has been nominated for the presidential race by a fringe nationalist party.

MAXIM SURAIKIN

The 39-year-old has been nominated by the Communists of Russia, a fringe group that casts itself as an alternative to the main Communist Party. He was trained as an engineer and ran a small computer business. In 2014, Suraikin ran for governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, getting about 2 percent of the vote.

US issues ‘Putin list’ of Russian politicians, oligarchs

January 30, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration late Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 “oligarchs” who have flourished during the reign of President Vladimir Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

Yet the administration paired that move with a surprising announcement that it had decided not to punish anybody — for now — under new sanctions retaliating for the election-meddling. Some U.S. lawmakers accused President Donald Trump of giving Russia a free pass, fueling further questions about whether the president is unwilling to confront America’s Cold War foe.

Known informally as the “Putin list,” the seven-page unclassified document is a who’s who of politically connected Russians in the country’s elite class. The idea, as envisioned by Congress, is to name-and-shame those believed to be benefiting from Putin’s tenure just as the United States works to isolate his government diplomatically and economically.

Being on the list doesn’t trigger any U.S. sanctions on the individuals, although more than a dozen are already targeted under earlier sanctions. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is among the 114 senior political figures in Russia’s government who made the list, along with 42 of Putin’s aides, Cabinet ministers such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and top officials in Russia’s leading spy agencies, the FSB and GRU. The CEOs of major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft and Sberbank, are also on the list.

So are 96 wealthy Russians deemed “oligarchs” by the Treasury Department, which said each is believed to have assets totaling $1 billion or more. Some are the most famous of wealthy Russians, among them tycoons Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Putin in the 2012 election. Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a figure in the Russia investigation over his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is included.

The Trump administration had until Monday to issue the list under a law passed last year. After declining to answer questions about it throughout the day Monday, the Treasury Department released it with little fanfare 12 minutes before midnight.

Even more names, including those of less-senior politicians or businesspeople worth less than $1 billion, are on a classified version of the list being provided to Congress, officials said. Drawing on U.S. intelligence, Treasury also finalized a list of at least partially state-owned companies in Russia, but that list, too, was classified and sent only to Congress.

There was no immediate comment early Tuesday from the Kremlin or the Russian Embassy in Washington. In the works for months, the list has induced fear among rich Russians who are concerned that it could lead to U.S. sanctions or to being informally blacklisted in the global financial system. It triggered a fierce lobbying campaign, with Russia hawks in Congress pushing the administration to include certain names and lobbyists hired by Russian businessmen urging the administration to keep their clients off.

The list’s release was likely to at least partially diffuse the disappointment from some lawmakers that Trump’s administration opted against targeting anyone with new Russia sanctions that took effect Monday.

Under the same law that authorized the “Putin list,” the government was required to slap sanctions on anyone doing “significant” business with people linked to Russia’s defense and intelligence agencies, using a blacklist the U.S. released in October. But the administration decided it didn’t need to penalize anyone, even though several countries have had multibillion-dollar arms deals with Russia in the works.

State Department officials said the threat of sanctions had been deterrent enough, and that “sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed.” “We estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. She did not provide evidence or cite any examples.

Companies or foreign governments that had been doing business with blacklisted Russian entities had been given a three-month grace period to extricate themselves from transactions, starting in October when the blacklist was published and ending Monday. But only those engaged in “significant transactions” are to be punished, and the United States has never defined that term or given a dollar figure. That ambiguity has made it impossible for the public to know exactly what is and isn’t permissible.

Late last year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said one reason the U.S. was proceeding cautiously was that major U.S. allies have much at stake. Turkey, a NATO ally, has a deal to buy the S-400, Russia’s most advanced air defense missile system. And key security partner Saudi Arabia recently struck an array of deals with Moscow, including contracts for weapons. It was unclear whether either country had since abandoned those deals to avoid running afoul of the U.S. sanctions.

New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lambasted the move to punish no one, saying he was “fed up” and that Trump’s administration had chosen to “let Russia off the hook yet again.” He dismissed the State Department’s claim that “the mere threat of sanctions” would stop Moscow from further meddling in America’s elections.

“How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway?” Engel said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Putin marks Stalingrad victory as tribute to Russian grit

February 02, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin attended commemorations Friday marking the 75th anniversary of the Nazi surrender that ended the battle of Stalingrad, lauding the Red Army’s victory as a shining example of Russia’s perseverance amid adversity.

Putin on Friday visited Volgograd, the current name of the city in southern Russia that stretches along the western bank of the Volga River. The city was renamed in 1961 as part of the Soviet Union’s rejection of former dictator Joseph Stalin’s personality cult. But the name Stalingrad remains inextricably linked to the historic battle that perhaps turned the tide of World War II more than any other.

The five months of fighting in Stalingrad between August 1942 and February 1943 is regarded as the bloodiest battle in history. The death toll for soldiers and civilians is estimated to have been an astonishing 2 million. Most of the city was reduced to rubble before Nazi forces surrendered on Feb. 2, 1943.

“Such degree of resistance, self-sacrifice and spiritual power were invincible, incomprehensible and terrifying for the enemy,” Putin said. Putin hailed the Stalingrad victory as a reflection of the “courage of our soldiers and the talent of their commanders.”

“The defenders of Stalingrad … have left us a great heritage: love for the Motherland, the readiness to defend its interests and independence and to show resistance while facing any trials,” he said.

Russian presidential candidate shuns Communist party dogma

January 31, 2018

LENIN STATE FARM, Russia (AP) — The Communist Party’s candidate for president would seem to be an odd choice: He’s a millionaire and proud of it. He also openly rejects the basic tenets of Communism. Pavel Grudinin is the Russian party’s first new nominee in 14 years as it hopes to rejuvenate itself and broaden its appeal from its traditional base of aging voters who are nostalgic for the old Soviet Union.

Not that Grudinin — or any other candidate — has much of a chance of unseating President Vladimir Putin when Russia votes on March 18. The presence of Grudinin and other official candidates are largely viewed as a Kremlin ploy to boost voter participation in an election that has a foregone conclusion.

A low presidential vote turnout would be seen as an embarrassment for the Kremlin. That’s why opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was leading a grassroots campaign for nearly a year before being formally barred from running, has been urging his supporters to boycott the presidential election and dent its legitimacy.

In contrast, Grudinin is urging voters to come to polls and bring change through the political process. The 57-year-old agricultural college graduate runs what is still known as the Lenin State Farm, a sprawling collective farm south of Moscow, the capital.

With his bushy mustache and salt-and-pepper hair, Grudinin’s looks are often compared to those of a young Josef Stalin. Grudinin worked on the farm in the mid-1980s and was appointed its director a decade later.

While most of the collective plots outside Moscow were sold off years ago to property developers, the Lenin State Farm evolved into a successful private business, growing vegetables and raising livestock. Its signature product is strawberries, accounting for a third of all of them produced in Russia.

While metal or wooden strawberries adorn lampposts, fences and farm buildings in the town, Grudinin’s self-promoted image of a farmer is not the whole story. He admits that his company over the years has made only a third to half of its income from agricultural production, which he blames on a lack of government subsidies and low wages for consumers who cannot afford his organic produce.

In fact, the Lenin State Farm makes most of its money from property deals, leasing and selling land for shopping centers. Corruption is rampant in the Moscow region, home to some of Russia’s most expensive real estate. Yet many international corporations doing business here refuse to pay officials under the table.

Grudinin views his deals with companies like the Swedish furniture giant IKEA as a badge of honor, citing it as proof that he does not pay bribes. Grudinin owns 44 percent of the farm and runs it with 33 other shareholders. The Communist-capitalist prides himself on reinvesting the profits back into the business or creating housing, education and other benefits for the community.

The small town that bears the same name as the farm is dominated by two Disneyland-like castles with spires and a futuristic building that looks like a sports arena but is actually a high-tech, 1.7 billion-ruble ($30 million) school that the farm built for residents.

“We spend this money in line with socialist principles: We spend it on people,” he says. Grudinin boasts that he is fighting corruption just like opposition leader Navalny — but “not only with words but also with deeds, by not paying bribes.”

While Grudinin refuses to recognize Navalny as the only viable alternative to Putin, he is willing to appropriate some of the opposition leader’s agenda. “We have too many bureaucrats and no one is responsible,” Grudinin said on state television. “If I tell the rich ‘instead of buying yachts, you should pay a higher income tax here, just like they do abroad,’ then maybe we will replenish the budget and we will modernize education and health care.”

Grudinin, who has declared 157 million rubles ($2.8 million) in income in the past six years, is no political novice. He sat on the local council in the early 2000s and was a member of the ruling United Russia Party until 2010.

In Putin’s first presidential election in 2000, Grudinin was one of 100 proxies for him, representing or speaking on his behalf in the campaign. Asked if it feels strange now to run against Putin, Grudinin replies: “I wouldn’t say I’m running against Putin. I stand for a different path for the country’s development.”

Although openly critical of the current political order — saying that “people don’t trust the authorities” and that “corruption has taken the upper hand” — Grudinin is careful not to blame it all on the man who has been leading Russia for the past 18 years. Putin is just part of the system, he says.

That line echoes the rhetoric of his predecessor, long-time Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, who has run in four presidential elections since 1996. Once a searing critic of President Boris Yeltsin, the 73-year-old Zyuganov and the Communists have been coopted by the Kremlin. These days, the Communists support all crucial Kremlin directives, such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, while dissenting on minor issues, which allows Putin to maintain a facade of democracy.

While running against Yeltsin in 1996, Zyuganov spooked Russia’s oligarchs and foreign investors by promising to re-nationalize the strategic sectors of the economy while still allowing private property. Grudinin rejects calls to ban private ownership of land — once a key tenet of Communism.

Unlike Russia’s oligarchs who make headlines by buying foreign sports teams or giant yachts, Grudinin’s investments like those in the town of 5,000 people have made him a popular figure. Pavel Samoilov, who works in a car repair shop, says he would love to work for Grudinin but the jobs on the farm are hard to get.

“People in the regions are much worse off than what they say on television,” says Samoilov, 33. He says he admires Putin’s foreign policy but says he has “allowed the country to come to ruin.” Putin enjoys national approval ratings of over 80 percent. While Grudinin once was polling second to Putin, he has since fallen to a tie with perennial candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has run for president six times.

Many of those who admire Grudinin still do not see him as a leader. Maria, a 40-year-old mother of two who wouldn’t give her last name, sounded ecstatic about the well-equipped local school and kindergarten and likes Grudinin. But she won’t vote for him.

“We need to vote for Putin because he is a strong leader,” she said. “This is Putin’s place.”

Russian opposition leader arrested amid election protests

January 29, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Protesters gathered across Russia on Sunday to support opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to boycott the March presidential election, and Navalny himself was arrested while walking to the Moscow demonstration.

Many of the crowds that turned out in generally frigid weather skewed sharply young, apparently reflecting growing discontent among Russians who have lived most or all of their lives under President Vladimir Putin, who came to power on New Year’s Eve 1999.

“As long as I’ve been alive, Putin has always been in. I’m tired of nothing being changed,” said 19-year-old Vlad Ivanov, one of about 1,500 protesters who assembled in St. Petersburg. Navalny, Putin’s most prominent foe, organized the protests to urge a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election, in which Putin is sure to win a fourth term. He was wrestled to the ground and forced into a police bus as he walked toward the demonstration on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

The anti-corruption campaigner was denied permission to be a presidential candidate because of an embezzlement conviction in a case widely seen as politically motivated. Late Sunday night, hours after police detained him, Navalny said on Twitter that he had been released before a trial. Russian news reports cited police earlier as saying he was likely to be charged with a public-order violation for calling unauthorized demonstrations.

Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy reported after his release that Navalny had not yet been presented with a charge. No figures were available for how many people participated in the protests, but the turnout was clearly smaller than for rallies Navalny organized last year. The size and scope of the earlier protests, which took place in provincial cities regarded as the center of Putin’s support, rattled the Kremlin.

Protests were reported in dozens of cities, from the Pacific Coast to the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Navalny’s web page showed a small group of protesters in remote Yakutsk, where it was minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit).

A crowd that police estimated at 1,000 people, but appeared larger, assembled in central Pushkin Square, brandishing placards reading “They’ve stolen the election from us” and “Elections without Navalny are fake.”

After that gathering dispersed, columns of protesters took off in several directions. One group skirted the Kremlin, then headed down the Novy Arbat, a prime shopping and entertainment area, and to the riverside government headquarters building informally called the Russian White House.

Shouting “Putin is a thief,” some of the protesters threw handfuls of snow through the high spiked fence surrounding the building. Police did not interfere, a contrast to their typically quick and harsh responses to unauthorized gatherings.

The OVD-Info organization, which monitors political repression, reported that 257 people were arrested in the demonstrations throughout the country. Hours before the Moscow protest, police raided Navalny’s headquarters, where there is a studio for live video transmissions. One broadcaster on the stream said police apparently were using a power grinder tool to try to get into the studio.

The anchors hosting the feed reported that police said they had come because of an alleged bomb threat. One anchor, Dmitri Nizovtsev, was detained by police, according to video broadcast from the headquarters. Navalny’s Moscow coordinator, Nikolai Lyaskin, also was detained Sunday, the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Several hundred demonstrators assembled in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, complaining both of Putin’s rule and of Navalny’s exclusion from the March 18 presidential election. “They took these elections away from us, they took away our votes. Our candidate was not allowed to run,” said Vladivostok demonstrator Dmitri Kutyaev.

Navalny rose to prominence with detailed reports about corruption among top Russian officials, which he popularized on social media to circumvent state control of television.

Irina Titova in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

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