Tag Archives: russia

Appeal Court upholds Navalny jail sentence.

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Navalny and his supporters say the rulings and several other cases against him are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

A Moscow appeal court on Saturday upheld a prison sentence imposed on chief Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after he returned to Russia from Germany last month.

Judge Dmitry Balashov rejected Navalny’s appeal of the February 2 ruling, which turned a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges into real jail time.

The judge decided to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just over two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

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Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who has emerged as President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, was arrested in January when he returned to Russia after months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

He was detained for violating parole conditions of the 2014 suspended sentence and it was then turned into a custodial sentence.

Navalny and his supporters say the rulings and several other cases against him are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

He was due in court again later Saturday in a another trial where he is accused of defamation for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” after he appeared in a pro-Kremlin video.

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Prosecutors have called for Navalny to be fined the equivalent of $13,000 in that case.

They also want his 2014 sentence turned into real jail time because the alleged defamation took place while he was serving the suspended term.

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#Newsworthy

Vladimir Putin accuses West of using ‘jailed Navalny’ against Russia.

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Navalny, a persistent thorn in Putin’s side, was arrested on his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning he claims was carried out by the Kremlin and the Russian security services, FSB.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday accused the West of using jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny to try to “contain” Russia.

“Our opponents or our potential opponents… have always relied on — and used — ambitious, power-hungry people,” Putin said in an interview with Russian media conducted on Wednesday but only broadcast on Sunday by public channel Rossiya 24.

Putin suggested that the wave of protests recently held across Russia in the wake of Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment had also been fed from abroad, against the backdrop of the widespread “exhaustion, frustration and dissatisfaction” arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

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He said that Russia’s “numerous successes” on a military level, but also in its management of the Covid-19 crisis and the development of the Sputnik V vaccine, were “starting to irritate” Moscow’s opponents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via a teleconference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

“The stronger we become, the stronger this containment policy,” Putin said.

Navalny, a persistent thorn in Putin’s side, was arrested on his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning he claims was carried out by the Kremlin and the Russian security services, FSB.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was subsequently jailed for nearly three years, sparking nationwide protests that saw more than 10,000 people detained and led to allegations of police abuse.

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The merciless crackdown has been sharply criticised by Europe and the United States.

And the EU is considering imposing sanctions on Russia, putting even more strain on the bloc’s already fractious relations with Moscow.

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#Newsworthy

Defamation: Navalny appears in Court.

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Navalny has already been sentenced to almost three years in prison in a separate case, on charges of violating parole for a fraud conviction

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has appeared in a Moscow court facing charges of insulting a World War II veteran, after being ordered to prison in a separate case that sparked global outrage and mass protests in Russia

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The hearing came a little over one week after the 44-year-old opposition leader, a persistent thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin, was sentenced to serve nearly three years in jail.

Heavily-armed riot police surrounded the court before Friday’s hearing and set up cordons outside.

The Kremlin critic was charged after he criticised a video broadcast by state media last year, in which several citizens spoke out in favour of changing Russia’s constitution – a change critics say cemented President Vladimir Putin’s control of the government.

Navalny is accused of slandering a WWII veteran [Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow via Reuters]

Navalny tweeted a clip of the video, calling the people who appeared in it “traitors”. One was a veteran who had fought in World War II and said he was so offended by Navalny’s comments that they led his health to deteriorate, prompting him to press defamation charges.

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Navalny on Friday told the judge that she was selected for the trial because she was “the most unscrupulous judge in the world” and should go back to school to become better acquainted with Russian laws.

Navalny has denied the accusations and said the case was politically motivated.

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His lawyer called the trial another attempt to silence Navalny, a vocal critic of Putin.

Navalny has also suggested that the 94-year-old veteran was mentally unable to follow the trial and is a “puppet” in the proceedings.

The veteran had tuned in to the proceedings’ first day by video from his home, but did not appear on Friday. Instead, his lawyer read his biography for 20 minutes and highlighted his wartime achievements – which Navalny complained had nothing to do with the trial at hand.

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Several witnesses were called to testify against Navalny on Friday; however, one who wanted to testify in his defence was initially not allowed in. Navalny complained the older man had been left outside in -15C weather on purpose and chastised the court.

If convicted, Navalny could face fines, compulsory labour or prison.

Previous convictions
Navalny has already been sentenced to almost three years in prison in a separate case, on charges of violating parole for a fraud conviction.

This was despite the fact that he could not report to parole officers because he had to be taken to Germany while comatose after an attack with a nerve agent, then stayed there to recuperate for several months. The attack has widely been blamed on Russian agents.

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Navalny was immediately arrested on returning to Russia, leading to massive protests across the country.

His supporters are planning a decentralised, peaceful protest action on Sunday to make it harder for police to arrest them. Supporters across Russia plan stand in front of their homes and hold torches aloft.

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#Newsworthy

We’ve discussed new Russia sanction with EU – Navalny’s aides.

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…Navalny’s regional network and another associate Vladimir Ashurkov on Monday discussed via video link with EU states the bloc’s “next steps” on Russia.

Aides of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said they discussed possible sanctions against prominent members of President Vladimir Putin’s circle including business tycoons to ramp up pressure on Russia.

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Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny’s regional network and another associate Vladimir Ashurkov on Monday discussed via video link with EU states the bloc’s “next steps” on Russia.

This screen grab from a handout footage provided by the Babushkinsky district court on February 5, 2021, shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, looking from inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) /

The video call was hosted by Poland and included envoys from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ukraine, Poland’s mission in the EU said on Twitter.

Volkov wrote on the Telegram messenger late Monday that he and Ashurkov discussed “personal sanctions” against billionaires Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov.

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He said they also named the head of Russian state bank VTB Andrey Kostin and television executive Konstantin Ernst, among others.

Volkov did not say whether the meeting resulted in concrete agreements, but said Navalny’s team will promote personal sanctions against the Putin circle “in the coming weeks and months.”

The video call took place at a time of heightened tensions between the European Union and Russia, exacerbated by the arrest and jailing of Navalny.

Moscow on Friday expelled three European diplomats during the visit of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Russia for allegedly taking part in protests in support of Navalny.

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On Monday Germany, Sweden and Poland each ordered the removal of a Russian diplomat in retaliation.

EU foreign ministers have said they will debate punitive measures and possible sanctions against the Kremlin when they meet next on February 22.

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#Newsworthy

Germany warns of consequences over diplomat expulsions in Russia.

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Merkel said however that Berlin’s stance on the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia remained “unaffected”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday condemned as “unjustified” Russia’s expulsion of European diplomats for participating in unauthorised demonstrations in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

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“We consider these expulsions to be unjustified. We believe it is yet another aspect that can be observed right now of Russia being quite far from the rule of law,” she said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said earlier that the move would “not go unanswered”.

Merkel said however that Berlin’s stance on the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia remained “unaffected”.

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Nord Stream 2 is a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline that will run beneath the Baltic Sea and is set to double Russian natural-gas shipments to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a press conference following talks via video conference with Germany’s state premiers on coronavirus restrictions at the Chancellery in Berlin on December 2, 2020. (Photo by Markus Schreiber / POOL / AFP)

The United States and several European countries such as Poland have criticised the project, saying it will increase German and EU dependence on Russia for critical gas supplies.

France recently joined in a call for Berlin to abandon the project in protest over Navalny’s detention in Moscow.

At a joint video news conference after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, Merkel acknowledged that the pipeline was a “controversial project” but “solutions can be found together” on the issue.

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The German leader also stressed that it was important to keep a channel open for discussions with Russia, given that it was a key player on many geopolitical issues.

“Despite deep-reaching differences, it is nevertheless strategically advisable to stay in talks with Russia,” said the German leader, noting that cooperation was required on many issues including Libya, Syria and Belarus.

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#Newsworthy

Alexei Navalny’s trail on slander kicks.

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Navalny’s detention on his return to Moscow sparked mass demonstrations across the country that saw police arrest 10,000 protesters.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny went on trial Friday on charges of defaming a World War II veteran, days after being handed a nearly three-year prison term that sparked an international outcry.

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An AFP journalist said the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was present in the courtroom, standing inside a glass case for defendants.

Legal pressure has been mounting on Navalny and his allies since he returned in mid-January to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack with the nerve agent Novichok.

He was ordered by a Moscow court this week to serve two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he says were politically motivated.

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On Friday, Navalny was facing defamation charges for describing people — including the 95-year-old veteran — who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” in a June tweet.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and the court was not expected to pronounce a verdict Friday.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow on February 5, 2021. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) /

Navalny’s detention on his return to Moscow sparked mass demonstrations across the country that saw police arrest 10,000 protesters.

On Thursday he called on his supporters to fight fear and liberate Russia from a leadership he described as a “handful of thieves”, while his aides said more protests were planned for later this year.

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The hearing came hours ahead of a planned meeting between the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in the first visit by a senior envoy from the bloc since 2017.

Borrell said ahead of the meeting that he would raise the issue of Navalny’s detention and the police crackdown on protesters.

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#Newsworthy

European Union Foreign Policy Chief jets to Russia over Navalny’s controversy.

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European diplomats say that any measures, if they come, would likely just target officials and functionaries directly involved in the clampdown

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell jets to Moscow on Thursday under pressure to confront the Kremlin over the jailing of Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on protesters.

The visit — the first to Russia by a top EU envoy since 2017 — has drawn criticism from some European capitals worried Moscow will spin it as evidence Brussels is keen to return to business as normal.

But Borrell insists he will deliver “clear messages” to the Kremlin despite it blanking Western calls to release President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent Navalny, who was on Tuesday given a jail term of almost three years.

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“It is when things are not going well that you must engage,” the former Spanish foreign minister said on Monday.

The EU’s ties with Russia have been in the doldrums since Moscow seized Crimea and began fuelling the war in Ukraine in 2014 — and there are concerns about its involvement in Belarus, Syria, Libya, central Africa and the Caucasus.

Borrell is eager to sound out his veteran counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the chances of cooperation on issues including enlisting Russia’s help in reviving the Iran nuclear deal and tackling climate change.

But it will be the jailing of Navalny and detention of thousands of demonstrators across Russia by baton-wielding security forces that dominates his visit.

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Nonsense, says Kremlin
The EU foreign policy chief is under no illusions that he can pressure Moscow into freeing Navalny — and the Kremlin has already warned him off.

“We hope that such nonsense as linking the prospects of Russia-EU relations with the resident of a detention centre will not happen,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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Moscow stands “ready to do everything” to develop ties with Brussels, but the Kremlin is “not ready to listen to advice” on the issue of Navalny, he said.

European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell speaks during press conference following a meeting with EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs at the EU headquarters, in Brussels, on January 25, 2021. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

The authorities have poured cold water on attempts to set up a meeting with Putin’s nemesis and Borrell will settle for talks with civil society representatives.

Back in Europe calls are growing from some nations for the EU to bulk up on sanctions it slapped on six Russian officials in October over the nerve agent poisoning that left Navalny fighting for his life in Germany.

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EU foreign ministers last week agreed they would revisit the issue if he was not released.

“After this ruling, there will now also be talks among EU partners. Further sanctions cannot be ruled out,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert.

An EU statement said foreign ministers would discuss “possible further action” at a meeting on February 22.

Navalny himself called at the European Parliament last year — two months before his fateful return to Moscow — for sanctions to hit the oligarchs and money-men he accuses of protecting Putin’s wealth.

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But European diplomats say that any measures, if they come, would likely just target officials and functionaries directly involved in the clampdown.

There have also been calls for Germany to halt the highly contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring Russian gas to Europe.

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Continental powerhouse Berlin has rebuffed the clamour and Borrell insists Brussels has no power to make Germany pull the plug.

“I don’t think that it is the way to resolve the problem with Navalny,” Borrell said.

“The Russians won’t change course because we tell them we will stop Nord Stream.”

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For Moscow the visit looks set to be used as a chance both to deflect from its own issues and show that the West still wants to talk to it regardless.

‘Not a sign of weakness’
“On the one hand, the Kremlin is eager to portray the EU as a weak actor with a lot of internal problems,” said Susan Stewart from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“On the other hand, despite official rhetoric, the Kremlin is still keen to demonstrate that western actors are interested in cooperating with Russia, since this increases its status and legitimacy.”

But with European leaders set to debate their overall approach to Russia at upcoming summits in the next few months, diplomats in Brussels insisted this was the right time to visit Moscow.

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“There are reasons to go there to pass on messages,” one European envoy said.

“This mission is not a sign of weakness.”

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#Newsworthy

Russia ‘happy’ over police crackdown on Navalny supporters.

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Navalny’s arrest and the violent police crackdown has been condemned by international rights groups and Western governments, including the United States, Britain and France.

Russia on Wednesday defended its crackdown on protesters demanding the release of opposition figure Alexei Navalny as his allies vowed to continue putting pressure on the Kremlin.

Protest monitors said that more than 10,000 people were detained at recent nationwide rallies in support of President Vladimir Putin’s loudest critic, who was handed a prison term on Tuesday.

The verdict spurred Navalny’s supporters onto the streets of Moscow where riot police used batons to disperse the protesters who were detained en masse.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that “the holding of unauthorised rallies raises concerns and justifies the tough actions of the police.”

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Demonstrations in more than one hundred cities across Russia were sparked last month by Navalny’s detention in a Moscow airport on arrival from Germany where he had been recovering after being poisoned in August.

On Tuesday, the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was given a jail term of two years and eight months for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he claims were a pretext to silence him.

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The case presented one of the most serious challenges to the Kremlin in years, with some in the West calling for new sanctions against Russia.

But Navalny’s jailing has also weakened Russia’s opposition movement now without its most prominent figure whose aides have also been seized by police.

Navalny’s wife Yulia said that “good, strong” people support her and her husband so there was no need to “retreat or be afraid”.

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“We will win anyway,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional network, said earlier that even after the verdict on Tuesday, “everything is just beginning”.

“We will increase pressure on Putin… new investigations will come out. New peaceful rallies and marches will be held,” he wrote on Telegram.

In its most recent investigation, Navalny’s team accused Putin of having received as a gift an opulent palace on the Black Sea coast in a video that garnered more than 100 million views on YouTube.

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‘Harsh detentions’
The report spurred tens of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets over consecutive weekends last month, with protester chants and signs referencing the investigation.

The OVD-Info group that monitors opposition protests said Wednesday that more than 10,000 people had been seized by police at those rallies and the protests that followed the court hearing.

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Russia’s Union of Journalists said weighed in, noting that over 100 journalists were either injured or detained at rallies.

An analyst working for OVD-Info, Grigory Durnovo, told AFP that many of the detainees had been subjected to “difficult conditions” in custody and that authorities were purposefully carrying out “harsh detentions”.

He also noted that the group’s lawyers, who provide free legal aid to protesters, had been denied access to detention centres.

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The authorities “are openly demonstrating that a lawyer is perceived as an accomplice of the offender,” he said.

Echoing detainee testimonies, Durnovo said Moscow’s jails had reached full capacity due to the massive influx of Navalny supporters.

On Tuesday, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, ordered checks of detained men to see if they have avoided military service, which in Russia is compulsory for one year.

Navalny’s arrest and the violent police crackdown has been condemned by international rights groups and Western governments, including the United States, Britain and France.

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Germany on Wednesday reiterated calls to free Navalny and said that more EU sanctions on Russia “cannot be ruled out”.

The UN Human Rights Office called for the release of protesters detained “for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression”.

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#Newsworthy

Russia successful Navalny’s 2 years, 8 months jail.

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Navalny’s allies have also called for new sanctions against some of Putin’s closest allies and the officials involved in his case.

A Moscow court has sentenced Alexei Navalny to two years and eight months in a prison colony in a landmark decision for Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on the country’s leading opposition figure.

Navalny, who has accused the Russian president and his allies of stealing billions, was sentenced to prison for violating parole from a 2014 sentence for embezzlement. He said the case against him was politically motivated.

The judge subtracted 10 months he spent under house arrest from his original three-and-a-half-year sentence as she delivered the verdict.

The court’s decision makes Navalny the most prominent political prisoner in Russia and may be the most important verdict against a foe of Putin’s since the 2005 jailing of the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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In a fiery speech from a Moscow city courtroom decorated with portraits of Cicero and Montesquieu ahead of the sentencing, Navalny accused Putin of ordering his assassination and said that the Russian leader’s “only method is killing people”.

He flashed a heart sign with his hands to his wife, Yulia, when he later returned to learn his sentence.

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The Kremlin’s decision to send Navalny to prison came despite the threat of historic street protests and international condemnation from the US government and other foreign leaders. Diplomats from more than half a dozen western countries attended the court.

But the sentencing showed the exhaustion of Russia’s leaders with Navalny, who even from jail released a detailed investigation into a £1bn Black Sea palace allegedly built for Putin’s use.

He was arrested upon returning to Russia last month after surviving in August 2020 a suspected FSB assassination attempt with a novichok poison similar to that used in Salisbury in 2018.

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Russian prison officials had said while Navalny recovered in Germany that they would seek to jail him for violating parole in the 2014 case in an apparent attempt to keep the Kremlin critic in exile, but he flew back all the same.

Russia Opposition Leader, Alexei Navalny jailed for 2 years, 8 months | Noble Reporters Media | Adigun Michael Olamide | NoRM News.

“Someone did not want me to take a single step on my country’s territory as a free man. And we know who and we know why – the hatred and fear of one man, living in a bunker, whom I offended by surviving when he tried to have me killed,” he said of Putin.

“His only method is killing people. However much he pretends to be a great geopolitician, he’ll go into history as a poisoner.”

“This isn’t a political rally,” the judge interrupted him at one point. “Let’s not do politics here.”

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The 16-minute speech may be one of the opposition leader’s last public orations in the coming years. Investigators are preparing to bring new charges against Navalny on fraud and other charges that could carry a sentence of another decade in a penal colony if they are brought to trial.

In his remarks, Navalny called on his supporters not to fear the government, saying: “You can’t imprison the whole country.”

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More than 5,000 people were detained in nationwide protests this weekend and senior Navalny aides have been swept up in government raids.

Navalny imprisoned for two years and eight months | Noble Reporters Media | Adigun Michael Olamide | NoRM News.

“Locking me up isn’t difficult,” Navalny told the court. “This is happening to intimidate large numbers of people. They’re imprisoning one person to frighten millions.”

He called the court case a “performance”. “This is what happens when lawlessness and tyranny become the essence of a political system, and it’s horrifying,” he said.

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For years, the government had harassed Navalny, holding him under house arrest, jailing his aides and imprisoning his brother for three-and-a-half years in 2014.

But until Tuesday, it had stopped short of giving him a long prison sentence, apparently fearing a backlash.

In 2013, a judge abruptly set Navalny free on parole one day after thousands protested against his five-year prison sentence on the streets outside the Kremlin.

The sudden about-face confirmed what many in the opposition believed: that important court decisions are made in the Kremlin.

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The government’s mood apparently changed following the failed assassination attempt and a deeply embarrassing investigation by Bellingcat, which exposed the attack as the work of an FSB hit squad who had shadowed Navalny around Russia for years.

In a flourish, Navalny managed to elicit a confession from a member of the FSB, the Russian intelligence service that Putin formerly headed.

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Before the verdict, hundreds of police were deployed around the Moscow city court in expectation of fresh protests.

By 5pm, at least 235 people had been arrested, according to the OVD-Info monitor, although the court had yet to deliver a decision.

The hearing was held in an oak-panelled courtroom at a packed Moscow city court, where authorities barred reporters from taking photographs or videos of the proceedings.

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Dressed in a blue hoodie, Navalny joked with his family and needled the judge and prosecutor, who cross-examined him on whether he had missed parole check-ins from earlier in 2020s.

From a glass-windowed holding cell called an “aquarium”, he told his wife: “They showed you in my cell. They say you keep violating public order. You’re a bad girl. I’m proud of you.”

Russian police standing guard near the Moscow city court on Tuesday. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Diplomats at the hearing were chased by state television journalists peppering them with questions about whether they were extending Navalny political support.

Navalny’s allies have also called for new sanctions against some of Putin’s closest allies and the officials involved in his case.

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Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, called the western diplomats’ presence “meddling”.

“It exposes the mean and illegal role of the collective west in attempts to restrain Russia,” she said. “Or is it an attempt to put psychological pressure on the judge?”

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#Newsworthy..

Update: Prosecutors ‘yes’ Navalny be jailed.

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Russia in Global Affairs, which is seen as often reflecting Kremlin thinking

The jailing of Russian opposition figureRussia was likely to shrug off new sanctions. Alexei Navalny is corroding already damaged Europe-Russia ties but EU leaders are unwilling to cut all contact with President Vladimir Putin and risk sacrificing climate and security cooperation, analysts say.

The arrest of Navalny at a Moscow airport last month, following months of medical treatment in Germany, prompted an outcry from the European Union and key member states who believe he was poisoned in the summer by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

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The tensions come at a period of turbulence in Russia unusual in Putin’s two-decade grip on power, with police arresting thousands in two successive weekends of mass nationwide protests in support of the Kremlin critic.

But analysts expect the EU to still keep talking to Putin, even if Navalny’s situation will further darken a climate already bedevilled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, claims of election meddling and alleged assassination plots on European territory.

“The arrest of Navalny may indeed lead to a further deterioration of EU-Russia ties and particularly those between Germany and Russia,” said Andras Racz and Milan Nic in a report on Russian foreign policy for the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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They said that Moscow was “losing interest” in dealing with Europe while China under President Xi Jinping has emerged as “Russia’s sole great power partner in international affairs.”

Europe needs to “intelligently manage” a situation without any prospect of strategic improvement in the short or medium term but where there could be chances to cooperate on issues including global warming, the Arctic and the Covid-19 pandemic, they said.

‘Macron’s error’
In a key test for the temperature of relations, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will travel to Russia on Thursday for talks in the first such visit since 2017.

The poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Navalny have also largely derailed a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron for a rapprochement with Russia under Putin.

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The French leader’s main achievements have been limited to chairing a 2019 summit that helped a July 2020 ceasefire that has sharply reduced fighting in the east of Ukraine.

Further EU sanctions against senior Russian officials will now be on the agenda but the big question is if Germany is willing to put the Nordstream II gas pipeline project at stake.

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Putting the ball firmly in Berlin’s court and hinting of splits within the EU, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter radio on Monday that Paris had the “greatest doubts” over the project and had already asked Berlin to scrap it.

This grab taken from a video made available on January 18, 2021 on Navalny team Youtube page shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaking while waiting for a court hearing at a police station in Khimki outside Moscow. – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to stage mass anti-government protests during a court hearing after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany. (Photo by Handout / Navalny team Youtube page / AFP) /

Francois Heisbourg, special advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris, said the West was prepared to inflict more “reputational damage” on Russia with sanctions but would not go to the brink on the issue.

He said Macron and other European leaders were uneasy over Russia’s partnership with China and would like to see it disappear, “but the error of Macron is to believe the Europeans have the means to hasten this.”

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‘No choice’
Cyrille Bret, a lecturer at Sciences-Po university in Paris, said that while the West would defend freedom of expression in Russia as well as Navalny’s cause, security cooperation with Russia was still needed.

“We have no choice, Russia has a permanent seat on the UN security council and is invested in several essential formats, the Iranian nuclear agreements, the hypothetical political resolution of the conflict in Syria,” he said.

A similar approach is likely to be adopted by new US President Joe Biden, whose administration has been sharply critical of Russia over Navalny but also is keen to extend a landmark nuclear arms reduction agreement due to expire next month.

Upcoming votes add an additional factor of uncertainty, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel due to bow out after September polls and Russia facing potentially tense parliamentary elections the same month.

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In Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, which is seen as often reflecting Kremlin thinking, said Russia was likely to shrug off new sanctions.

But he added: “If this pressure continues, it will not work. It will only harden the conviction that the West wants to hinder Russia and that everything must be done to retaliate.”

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#Newsworthy

Just in: Over 5,300 ‘detained’ in Russia Pro-Navalny protest.

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The 44-year-old opposition figure is facing charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and could be jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Russian police detained more than 5,300 people across the country in a massive clampdown on anti-Kremlin protests, a monitor said Monday, as prosecutors backed a request to imprison opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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On Sunday, thousands of protesters defied government warnings and rallied from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in the second weekend of mass demonstrations over the arrest of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.

Police detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on January 31, 2021. – Navalny, 44, was detained on January 17 upon returning to Moscow after five months in Germany recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent and later jailed for 30 days while awaiting trial for violating a suspended sentence he was handed in 2014. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

OVD Info, which monitors arrests at opposition protests, said more than 5,300 people had been detained including nearly 1,800 people in Moscow and almost 1,200 in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

The protests — that saw authorities enforce a rare lockdown of the centre of Moscow — came ahead of a high-profile court hearing that could see Navalny imprisoned for several years.

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The 44-year-old opposition figure is facing charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and could be jailed for two-and-a-half years.

On Monday, the General Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement it backed a request by the prison service to change Navalny’s suspended sentence to a real one.

“This motion is considered lawful and justified,” the statement said.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in mid-January after flying back to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning with a nerve agent he blames on the Kremlin.

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The anti-corruption campaigner is being held in a high-security detention centre and faces years of potential jail time in several different criminal cases, despite calls from Western governments for his release.

Navalny’s team has urged supporters to gather in front of Moscow’s Simonovsky district court in a show of support for the opposition politician on Tuesday.

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#Newsworthy

Over 4,000 Pro-Navalny protesters held as police intercept protest.

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Russian authorities issued several warnings against participating in the unauthorised rallies and threatened criminal charges against protesters.

Police detained more than 4,400 people across Russia and blocked off the centre of Moscow on Sunday in a massive clampdown on protests demanding the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

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Thousands of protesters defied government warnings to rally from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in a second weekend of mass demonstrations over the arrest of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in mid-January after flying back to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is being held in a Moscow detention centre and faces years of potential jail time in several different criminal cases, despite calls from Western governments for his release.

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In moves not seen in years in Moscow, authorities locked down the centre of the capital Sunday, with hundreds of police lining the streets, central Metro stations closed and the movements of pedestrians restricted.

Protesters who had hoped to gather outside the headquarters of the FSB security service were instead scattered to various parts of the city as organisers made last-minute changes in locations.

AFP journalists saw dozens of protesters detained and taken into police vans.

US condemns ‘harsh tactics’

Several thousand were seen marching throughout the city centre, but it was unclear amid the chaos how many people took part in the demonstration.

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Independent monitor OVD-Info said at least 4,407 people had been detained across the country, after reporting more than 4,000 detentions during similar protests on January 23.

It said at least 1,365 were detained in Moscow and 962 in Saint Petersburg, as well as 82 journalists across the country.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Twitter condemned “the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight.”

The Russian foreign ministry hit back, accusing the United States of “gross interference” in its affairs and of using “online platforms controlled by Washington” to promote the protests.

Protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “Putin is a thief!” as they marched through Moscow, braving bitter cold and snow.

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Several hundred protesters eventually gathered outside the Matrosskaya Tishina prison where Navalny is being held. Dozens were detained outside the complex.

“It’s almost embarrassing that the state is so afraid of us,” 31-year-old protester Elisaveta Dementieva told AFP at the Moscow demonstration.

Golden toilet brushes

Many protesters carried gold-painted toilet brushes in reference to a video released by Navalny’s team alleging that Putin had been gifted a $1.35 billion property on the Black Sea coast, which among other luxurious goods featured toilet brushes costing 700 euros ($840) apiece.

As night fell in Moscow protesters began to head home, with some wondering whether the demonstration would have any impact.

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“It’s true we are asking ourselves if these protests will really do any good,” said Nadia, a 21-year-old student. “It will take more for Navalny to be freed. And even more for Russia to be free.”

Several thousand people demonstrated in the second city of Saint Petersburg, despite police closing off the main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospekt and shutting Metro stations, an AFP journalist reported.

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Police were seen roughly detaining several protesters, including one young man who was left with a bloodied head.

Earlier, protesters had rallied in cities including the Pacific port of Vladivostok, where dozens escaped the police on the frozen waters of the Amur Bay and danced in a circle.

Several thousand were also reported to have protested in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk despite temperatures dropping to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Navalny’s wife detained

The head of Russia’s Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, called Sunday’s events a “provocation” and said they have “nothing to do with protecting rights”, news agency TASS reported.

Navalny is due in court several times next week, including on Tuesday on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.

His team has called for supporters to gather outside the courtroom.

Navalny’s wife Yulia posted a picture of her family on Instagram on Sunday, urging supporters to make their voices heard.

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“If we remain silent, then tomorrow they will come for any one of us,” she wrote.

Navalny’s team said Yulia was detained by police shortly after she announced her arrival at Sunday’s rally on social media.

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#Newsworthy

Navalny aides to take to street despite ‘house arrest’

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Authorities are also targeting online platforms demanding they delete posts with calls for rallies or face fines.

Russian police detained over 250 protesters on Sunday as activists took to the streets across the country demanding the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Despite authorities ramping up pressure on the opposition with arrests and criminal probes, Navalny aides have called for new nationwide demonstrations ahead of the opposition leader’s trial set to start on February 2.

The first protests took place in the Far East, including the port city of Vladivostok where several dozen protesters gathered in the city’s central square despite police closing it off ahead of the rally.

“The desire to live in a free country is stronger than the fear of being detained,” 25-year-old student Andrei, who preferred not to give his last name, told AFP.

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AFP footage from Vladivostok showed dozens of protesters escaping the police on the frozen waters of the Amur Bay and circle dancing.

Russian authorities have issued several warnings against participating in the unauthorised rallies and threatened criminal charges against protesters.

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According to independent monitors, at least 261 people were detained in more than a dozen cities before the expected start of the rally in Moscow, which usually mobilises the largest crowds.

In an unprecedented move police in the capital announced the closure of seven metro stations and said movement of pedestrians would be limited in the city centre.

Moscow authorities also said some centrally-located restaurants and shops will close and overground transport diverted.

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Police detained 44-year-old Navalny at a Moscow airport on January 17 as he arrived from Germany, where he had been recovering from exposure to a Soviet-designed nerve toxin.

A makeshift court at a police station ordered the anti-graft campaigner placed in custody until his trial on charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence.

The Moscow rally is due to take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, Russia’s main security agency, which Navalny says carried out the near-fatal poisoning attack on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

– ‘Wake them up’ -“The majority is on our side. Let’s wake them up,” Navalny said on Thursday in a message from Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina, a high-security detention centre.

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Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets of over 100 cities across the country last Saturday to protest Putin’s 20-year-rule.

More than 4,000 demonstrators were detained while authorities launched a series of criminal probes.

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The country’s media watchdog said Friday it summoned representatives of several social networks, including Facebook and TikTok, for failing to comply.

This week several Navalny associates, including lawyer Lyubov Sobol and his brother Oleg, have been placed under house arrest until late March pending charges for violating coronavirus restrictions by calling people to join protests.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh was detained late Saturday also over violating virus measures, the same day she was due to walk free after a nine-day jail term for violating protest laws.

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The head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov, said Saturday the Investigative Committee informed him that a criminal case on fraud charges had been launched against Navalny.

In December last year, investigators said they were initiating a probe into Navalny allegedly misappropriating over $4 million of donations to his organisations.

Days after Navalny was taken into custody, his team released a video report alleging Putin had been gifted a $1.35 billion property on the Black Sea coast, garnering over 100 million views on YouTube.

The Kremlin has denied that the Russian president owns the opulent complex, which according to Navalny features an underground ice hockey arena, a private casino and vineyards.

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State television on Friday sought to rebut opposition claims the Black Sea property was a luxurious palace by airing footage of it under construction.

Billionaire Arkady Rotenberg — Putin’s former judo partner who is under Western sanctions — said Saturday he was the owner of the property and that he was building a hotel there.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Iran expects first batch of Russian vaccine by Feb. 4 – Ambassador

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Iran is fighting the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of Covid-19 with more than 57,800 dead out of over 1.4 million cases.

Iran’s ambassador to Russia said Saturday that Tehran expects to receive the first batch of Moscow’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by February 4, state news agency IRNA reported.

The news comes just days after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced the vaccine had been approved by the Islamic republic.

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“A contract for the purchase and joint production was signed yesterday between Iran and Russia,” envoy Kazem Jalali said, quoted by IRNA.

Two more batches are to be delivered by February 18 and 28, he added, without specifying quantities.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier this month banned the use of vaccines made by the United States and Britain, calling them “completely untrustworthy”.

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The country says arch enemy US has blocked its access to vaccines through Washington’s tough sanctions regime.

While food and medicine are technically exempt, international banks tend to refuse transactions involving Iran.

Russia registered the jab — named after the Soviet-era satellite — in August last year, before the start of large-scale clinical trials, leaving some experts wary.

Sputnik V’s developers have since said the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective and several countries outside of Russia have begun administering it, including Argentina.

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Hungary has also said it has reached a deal to buy the vaccine, although it has not been approved by the European Union.

Iran started clinical trials of its own vaccine in late December.

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#Newsworthy

Russia: Navalny’s brother, aides under house arrest.

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Meduza, a Russian-language news site based in Latvia, released its own investigation into the seaside mansion on Friday.

The brother and aides of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny were placed under house arrest on Friday ahead of new rallies, as Russian authorities warned that protesters could face charges of taking part in “mass unrest”.

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Moscow police also announced that on Sunday, when the fresh protests are planned, movement in the centre of the Russian capital would be limited and seven central metro stations closed.

Kremlin critics say authorities are dramatically ramping up pressure on the opposition in an effort to intimidate protesters and smother dissent.

Navalny’s plight and the increasing crackdown on dissent in Russia has sparked an outcry in the West, and the UN Security Council is set to meet informally on Wednesday to discuss Navalny, diplomats said.

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Navalny’s team has urged new protests, suggesting residents of Moscow gather on Sunday in Lubyanka Square outside the headquarters of the FSB security agency and Staraya Square, where the presidential administration has its offices.

On Friday, Navalny’s brother Oleg, prominent aide Lyubov Sobol and Pussy Riot activist Maria Alyokhina were placed under house arrest until March 23 for allegedly violating restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic by calling for people to join protests.

The coordinator of Navalny’s Moscow office, Oleg Stepanov, and Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the medical workers’ union critical of the government, were also placed under house arrest for two months.

Oleg Navalny has already served three-and-a-half years in prison for an embezzlement conviction that Kremlin critics say was politically motivated. He was released in 2018.

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The pressure on Navalny’s family and associates grew after tens of thousands of Russians rallied last weekend in support of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal domestic critic.

More than 4,000 protesters were detained last weekend and authorities launched a number of criminal probes. Several Navalny associates, including Sobol, were detained following police raids on their apartments and offices.

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The Investigative Committee announced Friday that Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional network based in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, was wanted on charges of calling minors to join unauthorised rallies.

A spokesman for Moscow police refused to provide more details of the planned movement restrictions on Sunday when reached by AFP.

Moscow eased coronavirus restrictions this week but officials refrained from lifting a ban on mass gatherings.

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– ‘Mass unrest’ warning –
Prosecutors and police have repeatedly warned Russians against participating in “unauthorised” events. On Friday, the General Prosecutor’s Office upped the ante, saying that demonstrators could face charges of mass unrest if protests turn violent.

In a message from jail, Navalny on Thursday urged Russians to stage new rallies.

“The majority is on our side. Let’s wake them up,” he wrote.

Police detained the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner after he returned to Russia on January 17 from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with Novichok, a Soviet-designed nerve toxin.

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A makeshift court at a police station last week ordered Navalny placed in custody until February 15.

On Thursday, a court rejected an appeal by his lawyers to release him ahead of a high-profile court hearing on Tuesday.

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He is facing charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and could be jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Many protesters say they are angered by Navalny’s jailing after the attempt on his life, which he blames on the FSB domestic intelligence service.

– ‘Tsar should have a palace’ –
Others were incensed by the findings of a Navalny investigative report claiming that an opulent palace was built for Putin on the Black Sea coast.

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The two-hour report has racked up more than 100 million views.

Navalny’s probe forced Putin to deny that he or his relatives own the property.

Citing contractors, Meduza claimed the property features a 16-storey underground complex and that the Federal Guard Service oversees construction works.

One of the people involved in building the residence said the Russian leader should live well.

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“A tsar should have a palace,” the unidentified person was quoted as saying.

State television on Friday sought to rebut opposition claims the Black Sea property was a luxurious palace by airing footage of it under construction.

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#Newsworthy

Russia population for first time ‘shrinks’ in 15 years.

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The data reported on Tuesday by the daily newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna came from a state register that includes weekly births and deaths.

Russia’s population shrank by about half a million last year, its first contraction in 15 years, the country’s statistics agency said on Friday.

Russia has a population of 146.2 million, according to newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, citing the agency.

There were 229,700 more deaths between January and November 2020 than in the same period the previous year, an excess mortality rate of more than 13 percent, the agency said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long called for greater efforts towards population growth. Last year, he blamed the trend on low incomes.

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Experts say further causes are the migration of younger, well-educated people abroad and the low birth rate.

Similar trends
This month, statistics from Poland and the United Kingdom, have shown similar trends.

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On Tuesday, statistics for 2020 showed deaths spiking in Poland to a level unseen since World War II and births sharply decline, trends attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and described by some as a demographic crisis.

Commenting on data the state agency Statistics Poland released in December for 11 months of 2020, economist Rafal Mundry said the number of deaths was the highest since World War II and the number of births the lowest in 15 years.

“We have a huge demographic crisis,” Mundry said on Twitter.

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In 2019, some 30,000 people died in Poland each month on average. In November, when COVID-19 cases spiked, the country registered almost 60,400 deaths.

In the UK, a study published on January 14 suggested it could be the largest population decline since World War II, citing the pandemic.

Faced with bleak employment opportunities, expatriates have been leaving the UK in large numbers, according to the UK’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE).

About 1.3 million people born abroad left the UK from July 2019 to September 2020, it said.

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Meanwhile, Brexit also appeared to have an impact in motivating people to leave Britain, with some Al Jazeera interviewed citing the UK’s divorce from the European Union as a push factor.

In London, the ESCoE said, as many as 700,000 people left the capital in the 14 months analysed.

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#Newsworthy

Vladimir Putin slams Pro-Navalny protesters.

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Rising tensions with Western powersNavalny’s imprisonment has led to increased friction between Russia and Western powers, including the United States and European Union.

President Vladimir Putin has described mass protests held at the weekend demanding the release of Alexey Navalny as illegal and dangerous, as he faces mounting pressure from the West and thousands of Russians over the leading Kremlin critic’s arrest.

Putin on Monday fielded questions from students in a video call from his Zavidovo residence after tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated against Navalny’s detention in several cities and towns on Saturday.

“All people have the right to express their point of view within the framework of the law. Everything that goes beyond the framework of the law is not only counterproductive but also dangerous,” he said.

“In the history of our country, we have repeatedly encountered situations when the situation went far beyond the law, and shook our society and the state, where not only people who were engaged in it suffered but also those people who had nothing to do with it.

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“All these events about which I just talked about – no one should use them trying to reach their ambitious goals and objectives, especially in the field of politics. This is not how politics is done, at least not a responsible politics.”

Police detained more than 3,000 protesters and used force to break up the rallies, which saw people ignore extreme cold and police warnings to publicly call for the 44-year-old’s immediate release.

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Several protesters were injured in clashes with riot police, the OVD-Info protest monitor group reported.

Navalny, Putin’s most prominent critic, was arrested on January 17 as he returned to Russia after five months in Germany spent recovering from an alleged poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

The Kremlin says it has seen no evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

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After landing in Moscow and being immediately arrested, he was soon jailed for 30 days over alleged parole violations relating to a case dating back to 2014 over embezzlement charges which Navalny believes were politically motivated.

Navalny ally calls for more protests
Meanwhile, Navalny’s allies called for more demonstrations across Russia on January 31 – Sunday – to demand his release.

If they take place, the protests would come just two days before Navalny is due in court on February 2, on charges of breaking the terms of the 2014 suspended sentence.

Leonid Volkov, the head of the opposition politician’s regional network, called on Twitter for Russians across the country to take to the streets “for Navalny’s freedom, for freedom for all, and for justice”.

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Navalny’s team had earlier spurred on his call for the rallies over the weekend by releasing an investigation into a lavish property on Russia’s Black Sea coast that Navalny alleged is owned by Putin.

Several of his close associates, including prominent activist Lyubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, were arrested last week, for calling on Russians to join the demonstrations. Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was also detained and later released.

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Putin on Monday denied ownership of the sprawling mansion.

“Nothing that is listed there as my property belongs to me or my close relatives, and never did,” he said.

The Kremlin has said it will not heed calls by three EU countries – former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – for sanctions over his case because it is a domestic matter.

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The EU on Monday was considering fresh sanctions on Russia over Navalny’s case, and the Kremlin’s handling of the weekend’s protests, during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels.

Russia on Sunday accused the US of interfering in its domestic affairs over Navalny’s detention.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took particular issue with a US embassy “demonstration alert” that warned US citizens in Russia of possible unrest, telling a state TV channel on Sunday that Washington’s interference in Russian domestic affairs was “absolute”.

“Of course, those publications are inappropriate,” Peskov said.

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“And of course, indirectly, they are absolute interference in our internal affairs.”

A US embassy spokeswoman told AFP that it was “routine practice” for US embassies and consulates to issue safety messages to American citizens abroad.

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#Newsworthy

Russia Gov’t arrest Hundreds Pro-Navalny protesters.

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The OVD-Info protest monitor group said that at least 1,090 people, including 300 in Moscow and 162 in St Petersburg, had been detained across Russia, a number likely to rise.

Russian police have detained over 1,000 people across Russia and used force to break up rallies around the country as tens of thousands of protesters demanded the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose wife was among those detained.

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Navalny had called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he says was applied to his underpants by state security agents in August.

…s had warned people to stay away from Saturday’s protests, saying they risked catching COVID-19 as well as prosecution and possible jail time for attending an unauthorised event.

But protesters defied the ban and bitter cold and turned out in force.

In central Moscow, where Reuters reporters estimated at least 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen roughly detaining people, bundling them into nearby vans.

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The authorities said just some 4,000 people had shown up.

Video footage from Vladivostok showed riot police chasing a group of protesters down the street, while demonstrators in Khabarovsk, braving temperatures of about -14C (7F), chanted “Shame!” and “Bandits!”

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Police in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, one of the coldest cities in the world and where the temperature was -52C on Saturday, grabbed a protester by his arms and legs and dragged him into a van, video footage from the scene showed.

In Moscow, police put up barricades around Pushkinskaya Square as workers were engaged in re-tiling it, an apparent attempt to thwart a demonstration that was scheduled to start at 11:00 GMT.

Police also arrested a few people gathered on the square before the rally, including a lone picketer.

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It reported arrests at rallies in nearly 70 towns and cities.

Navalny, an ex-lawyer who has accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, could face years in jail over legal cases that he calls trumped up. Putin has denied involvement.

Navalny’s supporters are hoping they can produce a show of anti-Kremlin street support despite winter conditions and the coronavirus pandemic to pressure the authorities into freeing him.

Navalny faces a years-long prison term. Authorities accused him of violating the terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 conviction for financial misdeeds, including when he was convalescing in Germany.

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The two-hour video report has been viewed more than 64 million times since its release on Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.

Navalny’s arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.

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#Newsworthy

Russia ‘steps back’ after palace probe.

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The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner issued the report into what he said was “the world’s most expensive palace” days after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany.

Russian prosecutors on Thursday warned supporters of Alexei Navalny against making calls for protests as his probe into President Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” has become the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube report.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said Thursday that the two-hour video report into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin had been viewed more than 40 million times since its release Tuesday.

The video accompanied a call for mass anti-Kremlin protests this weekend.

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But in a statement on Thursday, Russian prosecutors warned against calls to take part in the “illegal mass protests”.

“Law enforcement agencies have been advised to take preventative measures and bring administrative action against violators if need be,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said.

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Following the release of his latest report, Navalny supporters took to social media to voice support for him and post videos urging people to come out on to the streets on Saturday.

‘Illegal activities’
On Wednesday, communications watchdog Roskomnadzor warned social media platforms against promoting calls for demonstrations.

The watchdog said it had formally told TikTok and VKontakte — Russia’s equivalent of Facebook — to stop spreading “illegal information involving minors in illegal activities”.

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Navalny in recent years has released a series of investigations into the alleged wealth of Putin’s allies, but Tuesday’s report was the first time he has targeted the Kremlin chief in a lengthy expose.

His 2017 video into the alleged wealth of former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev by comparison has been viewed 38 million times and sparked mass protests on its release.

Navalny’s team has received 10 million rubles ($136,000) in donations from supporters since the report’s release, Yarmysh told AFP on Thursday.

The report alleges that the 17,691 square metre mansion sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino hall, along with a theatre and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.

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The Kremlin has denied the mansion belongs to Putin and urged Russians not to send their money to “crooks.”

Navalny returned to Russia on Sunday from Germany where he had been recovering from exposure to the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok in an attack he blamed on Russian security services and Putin.

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#Newsworthy

Navalny urges Russians to stage mass anti-gov’t protest.

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The makeshift court ruled Monday that Navalny, who blames his poisoning attack on President Vladimir Putin, will be kept in police custody until mid-February.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to stage mass anti-government protests during a court hearing after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany.

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“Do not be silent. Resist. Take to the streets — not for me, but for you,” the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner said in a video posted on YouTube from the police station where the hearing was hastily convened.

Navalny was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since he was poisoned with a nerve agent last August.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the poisoning.

Leonid Volkov, a prominent aide of Navalny, called on protesters to take to the streets nationwide on January 23.

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Russia’s FSIN prison service said Sunday that it had detained Navalny for violating the terms of a suspended sentence he was given in 2014 on fraud charges he says were politically motivated.

In Monday’s video Navalny quipped about his detention, summing it up from the Kremlin’s point of view: “We tried to kill you, you didn’t die, this was an insult to us and for that, we’re jailing you.”

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#Newsworthy

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COVID-19: Russia links with India for mass production of Sputnik V while Germany hit million cases

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France took the unusual step Thursday of allowing its winter sports resorts to stay open but ordering ski lifts to stay shut.

Germany, once a beacon of hope in Europe’s coronavirus nightmare, logged its one-millionth case on Friday, as Russia announced a partnership with India to mass-produce its controversial Sputnik vaccine.

Like much of Europe, Germany is battling a resurgence of a pandemic that is filling hospitals and forcing countries to shut down for business while they wait for help from a clutch of vaccines that could start rolling out for use next month.

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Some of the excitement about the new jabs dampened when Britain’s pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca admitted that further research was needed after a mixup in its third-stage trial.

But Russia unexpectedly stepped in with an announcement that an Indian generic drugmaker would start producing 100 million doses of its government-backed vaccine in early 2021.

Germany had largely contained the spread when the virus descended on Europe from China at the start of the year after first emerging in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

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Yet its careful approach failed to avert a second wave, imperilling the health of Europe’s biggest economy and dampening the mood heading into the winter holidays.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute recorded more than 22,000 new daily cases on Friday, pushing the country’s total beyond the one million mark.

More worryingly, number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care soared from around 360 in early October to more than 3,500 last week.

It has shuttered restaurants, bars, sporting facilities and cultural venues, though schools and shops remain open.

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‘I won’t take it’
Globally, more than 1.4 million deaths and nearly 61 million infections have been recorded, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

Most countries hope to ease their virus rules for Christmas and New Year, allowing families a respite before bracing for what the world hopes is one last wave of restrictions until the new vaccines kick in.

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Russia’s proposed solution for the global health crisis has been shrouded in mystery and speculation.

It became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine in August, long before the candidate had undergone large-scale clinical trials.

Russia said this week that interim results showed Sputnik V — named after the pioneering Soviet satellite — was 95 percent effective, although crucial phase three trials are still underway.

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The importance of these large trials was underscored when AstraZeneca admitted that its candidate — developed jointly with the University of Oxford — proved to be most effective when younger people were given half a dose by mistake.

“We need to do an additional study,” AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg.

One person not taking any of the vaccines approaching approval is Brazil’s populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who caught the virus after playing down its impact and refusing to wear a mask.

“I’m telling you, I won’t take it,” he said in a video posted to social media. “It is my right.”

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Black Friday
In the meantime much of the world faces a gloomy winter dampened by lockdowns, economic anxiety and mental strain.

Bulgaria allowed its stores to enjoy one last spurt of business on Black Friday — usually, the day shops are packed with people looking for holiday deals — before closing almost everything for three weeks shortly before midnight.

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“People have only just started returning in the past three days and now we’ll be shutting down for three weeks,” one Sofia restaurant owner lamented.

The mood was just as sour in the West Bank, where police in face masks set up roadblocks on the first day of new restrictions that included weekend curfews.

“I doubt the curfew will be fully respected,” said Amer Salamin, an accountant in Ramallah.

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Lockdown fatigue is spreading even as governments unfurl new measures to save healthcare systems from collapse.

Restaurant owners in Istanbul organised a protest after Turkey — hitting one-day records of 174 deaths and more than 29,000 infections on Thursday — switched to takeout and delivery service nationally.

Ski break debate
Nations are now trying to gauge how people, exhausted by one of the most traumatic years in generations, can enjoy a small holiday break without spreading the disease.

“Four hundred people on a Paris metro won’t get infected but four people on a ski lift will,” Jean-Luc Boch, the head of France’s Alpine mayors’ association, fumed.

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Playing it safe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for all EU resorts to be closed until January 10, making Switzerland — which is outside the bloc and is staying open — the go-to destination for ski fans.

“I am very bitter because I’m convinced the ski stations could reopen safely,” said Giovanni Brasso, a ski lift operator in the Italian Olympic village of Sestriere.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Sputnik V is 95% effective – Russia says

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Russia hopes to avoid a second nationwide lockdown by accelerating the production of vaccines.

Russia said Tuesday its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine was 95 percent effective and would be cheaper and easier to store than some alternatives, as the global race heats up to develop a jab.

The announcement was the latest in a flurry of breakthroughs as several vaccine makers worldwide published preliminary data showing efficacy rates of 90 percent and higher.

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Countries are hoping to begin inoculating their populations by year’s end or in early 2021 to stop a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 1.4 million people.

Russia was one of the first to announce the development of a vaccine in August — dubbed Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite — but before the start of final clinical trials.

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In a statement on Tuesday, the vaccine’s developers said preliminary data after trials involving thousands of volunteers showed “an efficacy of the vaccine above 95 percent” after a second dose.

Russia’s health ministry, the state-run Gamaleya research centre and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in the statement they expected the vaccine to record an even higher effectiveness after the next analysis.

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“No unexpected adverse events were identified as part of the research,” it said, though some of those vaccinated suffered short-term effects including fever, weakness, fatigue, and headache.

Less than $10 per dose
The two-dose vaccine will be available on international markets for less than $10 (8.40 euros) per dose, they said, and will be free for Russian citizens.

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It can be stored at between two and eight degrees Celsius (between 35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit), they said, instead of the temperatures far below freezing required for some other vaccines.

Pharma giants Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their virus vaccine is 95 percent effective, while US company Moderna said last week early results showed its candidate was 94.5 percent effective.

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Western experts have in the past expressed concern over Russia’s vaccine, fearing that its development could be rushed.

Several welcomed Tuesday’s announcement though they said more data was needed.

“This is yet more good news demonstrating a high interim vaccine efficacy,” said Azra Ghani, an infectious diseases specialist at Imperial College London.

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“The lack of any serious adverse events in approximately 20,000 trial participants is also very encouraging,” she said.

Russia has applied to the World Health Organization for accelerated registration and pre-qualification of the Sputnik V vaccine.

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President Vladimir Putin last week said that Russia had manufacturing agreements in place with China and India and encouraged Brazil and South Africa to also mass produce Russian-developed vaccines.

The head of the RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev, said Tuesday that European Union member Hungary would also manufacture the Sputnik V vaccine.

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Russia in recent weeks has registered a steep increase in new coronavirus infections but has stopped short of introducing strict measures like some European countries.

‘Alarming’ rise in Russia cases
The country’s total infections on Tuesday stood at 2.14 million, the fifth-highest caseload in the world.

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But at 37,031, virus deaths are significantly lower than other badly hit countries, raising concerns that the authorities are downplaying the pandemic’s severity.

Data published by Russia’s federal statistics service earlier this month indicated excess deaths of more than 117,000 year-on-year between March and September, suggesting that virus fatalities could be much higher.

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While Moscow remains the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, the country’s poorly funded regions are taking the brunt of the second wave.

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Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova on Tuesday said that in six of Russia’s 85 regions, over 90 percent of hospital beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients were occupied.

Putin has dismissed talk of another lockdown and emphasised last week that vaccines are on their way despite voicing concern over the country’s “alarming” case totals and fatality rate.

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He last month announced that Russia had registered a second coronavirus vaccine, EpiVacCorona.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said that Putin — who has said that one of his daughters took part in the Sputnik V clinical trials — could not volunteer to take the vaccine as “head of state”.

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#Newsworthy

Nagorno-Karabakh war: France, Russia & US set to meet. [More Stories]

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As international mediators head to Geneva, Armenia and Azerbaijan report further casualties.

  • France, US, Russia to hold talks in Geneva
  • Turkey says the Minsk Group should not be involved in mediating the conflict
  • Azerbaijan says city of Ganja shelled by Armenian forces, killing one civilian
  • Baku claims 30 Azeri civilians killed to date, but does not release military casualties
  • Nagorno-Karabakh says death toll among military rises to 350

France, the United States and Russia will step up efforts to end fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces in the South Caucasus by holding talks in Geneva, as fears of a regional war grow.

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French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said Russian, French and US representatives would also meet in Moscow on Monday to look at ways to persuade the warring sides to negotiate a ceasefire.

The three countries are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group that mediates over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey has accused the group of neglecting the conflict and said it should not be involved in mediation.

Le Drian hit back at Turkey, reiterating accusations – denied by Ankara – that it is involved militarily and saying this fuelled the “internationalisation” of the conflict.

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• HISTORIC ARMENIA CATHEDRAL DESTROYED IN KARABAKH •

Armenia said that Azerbaijani forces had shelled a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh’s city of Shusha, where AFP journalists saw the church had suffered serious damage.

There was a gaping hole in the roof of the Ghazanchetsots (Holy Saviour) Cathedral, an iconic site for the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Rubble was strewn about the floor, pews were knocked over and the interior was covered in dust from parts of the building’s limestone walls that had been hit. A section of its metallic roof had collapsed and fallen to the ground outside.

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• ARMENIA DISMISSES HEAD NSS •

Armenia on Thursday dismissed Argishti Kyaramyan, the head its National Security Service, the Interfax news agency reported citing a presidential decree.

• TURKEY FOREIGN MINSTER COMMENTS •

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the “status quo has to be changed” regarding the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia adding that Turkey respects the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Turkey has publicly backed Azerbaijan in the conflict and said it was ready to provide military assistance, should Azerbaijan request it.

Speaking at the annual Globsec forum in Bratislava, Cavusoglu also added that he was against any conflict in the Black Sea region, adding that Turkey is not flirting with Russia and supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.


#Newsworthy…