From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved

    This file is attached to from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. or return to King Of The North in 2021 January-March or continue to King Of The North in 2021 July-Sept



    So as 2020 has passed do we know who the "King of the North" is?
    "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.    The king will do as he pleases.    He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.    He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place." (Daniel 11:35,36).
    The king of the north mentioned in verses Daniel 11:36-45 is the same King from the North (also known as the stern-faced king or the horn power) that was introduced in Daniel 8.    Notice how this point is demonstrated.
    Verse 35 points to the appointed time of the end, and verse 36 describes a king who will be successful until the time of wrath is completed.
Rev. 17:11 The Eighth Head: The Seventh Head (revived Roman Empire) will grow an Eighth Head in verse 11 (Some claim this to be "The scarlet animal that is to be destroyed).
    Rev. 17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (‘Ogdoos’ eighth is connected to ‘Okta’ eight; here the vision shows that the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head or an outgrowth which will be destroyed; “the eighth” king, his “wound being healed,” Rev. 13:3, Antichrist manifested in the fullest and most intense opposition to God.    He is “the little horn” with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten “give their power and strength,” in Rev. 12:13, 17.), and is of the seven (originally came from the seven heads; The eighth is not one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God opposed features of the previous seven.    For this reason there are not eight heads, but only seven, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.),
and goeth into perdition (‘Apoleia’ indicating loss of well-being, not of being, is used of the Beast, the final head of the revived Roman Empire; In the birth-pangs which prepare the “regeneration” there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances, at which Antichrist takes his rise, from the sea, Rev. 13:1; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9-11.).
(Paraphrased: “The scarlet animal that died is the eighth king, having reigned before as one of the seven; after his second reign, he too, will go to his doom.”).
    [No one can really narrow down who or what this new entity came from, but the following is food for thought.    I ran across a news article dated 6/9/2018 on my “KingOfTheWest2018.htm" file and I discovered the following statement, was made in it and was titled "Russia joined the G-7 in the late 1990s almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, making the group the G-8."    And as it is seen above in prophecy the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head, which was Russia, the eighth as one of the seven.    So as it says above "in his second reign," which was in 2018, "he too, will go to his doom.]
    Most likely this king is the Russian president Vladimir Putin because of his continued push to be in the scene and his interfacing into other areas.
    The end of the year was filled with all the connection of Russia with Turkey, China, North Korea, Ukraine and Syria.     When Trump pulled our troops out of Syria and whether the prophecy below represents the beginning of the events happening in late October 2019 is still to be determined if Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests     Ezekiel 38:1 and 18 or Ezekiel 39:1-8 which states about the entwining of Russia the King of the North and the Mideast Nations and the King of the South into the prophecy above in the very near future as the King of the West has pulled out of this mess which I think Trump made the right call probably due to God's influence.
    The following image below is seen at so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    Well, lets see what happens in 2021.


4/5/2021 Ukraine-NATO To Hold Joint Drills Amid Ongoing War With Russia by OAN Newsroom
Ukrainian servicemen walk along a snow covered trench guarding their position at the frontline near Vodiane, about
750 kilometers (468 miles) south-east of Kyiv, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
    Ukraine is preparing to hold joint military drills with NATO forces amid a renewed threat of escalation in the ongoing conflict with Russia.
    “On this path, we have everyone’s full and permanent support,” stated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “Support by Ukraine’s international partners, by Europe and United States in particular.”
    The leader of Ukraine said the EU and the Biden administration have provided security reassurances in case of a major Russian offensive in the Donbas region.    However, experts pointed out the U.S. and EU have already failed to honor their previous guarantees under the Budapest Memorandum back in 2014.
    “As for the situation in eastern Ukraine, in Donbass, complete ceasefire is a prerequisite to continue tough, though very important talks in the Minsk and Normandy formats,” stated President Zelenskiy.    “I underline, once again, that our army is able to resist anyone’s attack and it strengthens our stance in settling the conflict by diplomatic means.”
    Russia is reportedly moving its forces toward the Ukrainian border because the Kremlin believes the weak Biden administration will not risk a major war over Ukraine.

4/6/2021 Putin signs law that allows him to serve two more terms
    MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a law allowing him to potentially hold onto power until 2036, a move that formalizes constitutional changes endorsed in last year’s popular vote.    The July 1 constitutional vote included a provision that reset Putin’s previous terms, allowing him to run for president two more times.    The 68-year-old Russian president, who has been in power for more than two decades, said he would decide later whether to run again in 2024 when his current six-year term ends.

4/6/2021 Russian Police Detain Supporters Of Kremlin Critic Navalny Outside Prison Holding Him by Maria Tsvetkova
Russian police officers detain Anastasiya Vasilyeva, a doctor and ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, near the IK-2 corrective
penal colony, where Navalny serves his jail term, in the town of Pokrov, Russia April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    POKROV, Russia (Reuters) -Russian police detained nine people outside a prison holding Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday as a small group of his supporters came to the facility, and authorities turned away a doctor who tried to see him.
    Navalny, 44, an opponent of President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike last week in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.
    Some allies had said they would protest from Tuesday at the prison in the town of Pokrov, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow, unless he saw a doctor of his choice and was given proper medicine.
    The prison has said his health is satisfactory and that he has had all necessary medical care.
    Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said she had received a letter from prison authorities dated March 17, saying he did not have his passport with him and that this could prevent him being admitted to hospital if ill.
    Anastasiya Vasilyeva, a Navalny ally who leads a doctors’ trade union, was turned away at the prison although she said she had an appointment with a senior prison official and wanted to see Navalny and check on his health.
    “All our peaceful actions don’t work,” she said.
    Police later detained her along with at least six other people, including several supporters and two reporters for CNN, Reuters correspondents said.
    Police said nine people had been taken into custody for flouting public order.    Security at the prison had been tightened earlier on Tuesday.
    Navalny was handed a jail term of around 2-1/2 years in February after a court ruled that he had violated parole for a fraud conviction in a case he says was politically motivated.
    “I believe he is innocent.    I’m fully on his side,” said Antonina Romanova, a Navalny supporter outside the prison.    “It happens that for some reason the people who can sort things out in the country end up in jail.”
    Navalny said on Monday he had a high temperature and bad cough and that three inmates in his ward had been admitted to hospital with tuberculosis.
    The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia later cited the state prison service as saying Navalny had been moved to a sick bay and tested for COVID-19.
    The Kremlin declined comment on Navalny’s health but said he would receive medical care like any other prisoner if ill.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; additional reporting by Anastasiya Lyrchikova, Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Katya Golubkova, Giles Elgood and Timothy Heritage)

4/6/2021 Russia Says Myanmar Sanctions Could Lead To Civil War, But EU Plans More
Villagers attend a protest against the military coup, in Launglon township, Myanmar April 4, 2021
in this picture obtained from social media. Dawei Watch/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Russia said on Tuesday the West risked triggering civil war in Myanmar by imposing sanctions on the military junta that has seized power in a coup, but France said the European Union will step up restrictions on the generals.
    The Kremlin’s show of support was a boost to the junta that overthrew Aun San Suu Kyi’s elected civilian government on Feb. 1.    But it still faces a sustained campaign of pro-democracy demonstrations and civil disobedience across the country, and condemnation and more sanctions from the West.
    In Myanmar’s main city Yangon on Tuesday, protesters sprayed red paint on roads, symbolising the bloodshed in a crackdown by the security forces.
    “The blood has not dried,” said one message in red.
    About 570 people, including dozens of children, have been shot dead by troops and police in almost daily unrest since the coup, and security forces have arrested close to 3,500 people, advocacy group the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said.
    Among those detained are Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most popular politician, and members of her National League for Democracy, which trounced military-backed candidates in a November election.
    However, Russia said on Tuesday that sanctions against the authorities were futile and extremely dangerous.
    “In fact, such a line contributes to pitting the sides against each other and, ultimately, pushes the people of Myanmar towards a full-scale civil conflict,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
    Russia is a major arms supplier to Myanmar and its deputy defence minister met coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyitaw last month, drawing criticism from rights activists who accused Moscow of legitimising the junta.
    The European Union was preparing to impose collective sanctions on the Myanmar military targeting its business interests, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Paris.
    “We are going to add economic sanctions at the level of the 27 (EU countries) …against the economic entities linked to the army so that they (sanctions) can be applied very quickly,” Le Drian told lawmakers.
    The EU last month-imposed sanctions on a number of figures linked to the coup and the subsequent repression, while the United States has also taken measures against individuals and military-run businesses, which cover a wide span of Myanmar’s economic life.
    A protest scheduled for Wednesday has called for the burning of Chinese-made goods.    Many protesters are opposed to China, a major investor in Myanmar, because it is seen as supporting the junta.
    Anger has swept Myanmar in the past two months over the coup that brought an abrupt end to a brief era of democratic and economic reform and international integration that followed the military’s oppressive 1962-2011 rule.
    Suu Kyi and her party had pledged to change the constitution to reduce the military’s political clout.
    The junta says it acted because the November election was fraudulent – an assertion dismissed by the election commission and international observers – and says it will hold a new election.
    Western countries have backed the protesters’ calls for Suu Kyi and her government to be reinstated.
    The ability to organise protests has been hampered by the military’s restriction of broadband wireless internet and mobile data services that had been the main channel for spreading word of what was happening in the country.
    Those able to access social media on Tuesday shared pictures of striking workers marching for a second day in the city of Mandalay, some wearing gas masks and giving the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of resistance to army rule.
    Authorities have issued arrest warrants for dozens of celebrities, models and influencers, and on Tuesday a popular comedian was arrested in Yangon, the Mizzima news site reported.
    Sithu Aung Myint, a prominent journalist, was on the wanted list.    Writing on Facebook, he said he was proud to be considered a threat.
    “When the coup council who have been committing crimes announces you as a lawbreaker together with the whole country, you will be more than happy because you are recognised as a hero in this revolution,” he wrote.
    “Your next generation will be proud of you.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Angus MacSwan, Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

4/6/2021 Dutch Cargo Ship Adrift Off Norway After Dramatic Rescue Of Crew
Dutch cargo ship Eemslift Hendrika lists as its crew is evacuated in stormy weather off the coast of Norway in the North Sea, April 5, 2021
in this still image obtained from social media video. Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre (JRCC) South-Norway via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – Emergency response teams scrambled on Tuesday to prevent a Dutch cargo ship adrift in the North Sea from sinking and causing an oil spill off     Norway’s coast after the crew had to be evacuated in stormy weather.
    Footage released by the Norwegian Rescue Coordination Centre showed some of the 12 crew members jumping into the sea late on Monday from the badly listing Eemslift Hendrika before being rescued by helicopter.    Others were hoisted directly from the deck.
    All were brought to safety, but the ship has continued to drift towards land.    It is currently some 74 km (40 miles) off the Norwegian coast.
    The wind is expected to gradually shift the vessel to a course parallel to the shore, giving the salvage operation more time, Hans Petter Mortensholm of the Norwegian Coastal Administration told Reuters.
    “Our calculations now indicate a window of opportunity to act, lasting until just after midday on Wednesday,” he said.    “The risk of pollution is our main concern.”
    The Hendrika has around 350 tonnes of heavy oil and 50 tonnes of diesel in its tanks, the Coastal Administration said.
    Smit Salvage, a subsidiary of the Dutch marine services company Boskalis, told Reuters it had been contracted to try saving the ship and was mobilising a team to send to Norway later on Tuesday.
    Safety permitting, Smit would seek to get its own crew on board the Hendrika and link the vessel to a so-called anchor handling tug, a powerful ship built to move rigs for the oil industry.
    “Getting her onto a tow line and to a calmer location, that is the goal,” Smit Salvage spokesman Martijn Schuttevaer said.
    A Norwegian coastguard vessel is on standby in the area and could also be used for towing purposes, the Coastal Administration said.
    Built in 2015 and registered in the Netherlands, the 111.6 metre (366 feet) Eemslift Hendrika is a yacht transport vessel, carrying smaller boats on its deck, according to Monaco-based Starclass Yacht Transport, which markets the ship’s services.
    One of the smaller vessels strapped to the deck fell off in the storm, the Coastal Administration said.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik in Oslo and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by David Goodman, Gareth Jones and David Evans)

4/6/2021 Bosnians Protest, Telling Government To Resign Over Lack Of COVID Vaccines
People display signs during a protest urging the government to obtain coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
vaccines, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Hundreds of Bosnians staged a protest in the capital Sarajevo on Tuesday, demanding the resignations of top government officials over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic and failure to launch a nationwide vaccination programme.
    The demonstration came as the country reported a further 99 deaths from COVID-19, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began last year and following a surge in infection rates in Bosnia over the past month.
    Protesters marched through the city centre carrying placards reading “The Fight for Life” and “Resignations and Vaccines,” while others drove in a motorcade, honking their car horns in support.    A spokesman for Sarajevo police estimated that about 500 people joined the march and at least 300 people were in the motorcade of about 150 cars.
    The protesters briefly blocked the area around government buildings in central Sarajevo.
    The country’s death toll from COVID-19 has now reached 7,052, up from 5,228 a month ago, while a vaccination programme has only been rolled out so far for health workers dealing with COVID patients.
    The protesters called for the resignations of the central and regional governments, and the introduction of obligatory negative tests for COVID-19 to be produced by all visitors entering the country.
    “This is a cry for help by Bosnian citizens,” Maja Gasalo-Vrazalica, one of six women who organised the demonstration on Facebook, told reporters.    “Our incapable government is gambling with our lives every day of the coronavirus pandemic, and we are gambling too if we remain silent.”
    The demonstration was held in silence to honour those who have died of the coronavirus, she said.
    Sarajevo, which has a population of about 400,000, reported 389 deaths from the coronavirus in March, compared with 80 in the previous month.
    Bosnian authorities have failed to provide vaccines for the country’s 3.3 million population.    They ordered 1.2 million doses under the COVAX scheme for poorer countries, but the first batch of 50,000 arrived only last week.    The supply of another 900,000 vaccines agreed with the European Union have yet to arrive.
    Bosnia, however, has received about 100,000 vaccines donated by Serbia, Turkey and China, in addition to about 40,000 ordered from Russia.
    “It’s enough,” said Emilija Heleta, a 45-year-old business owner, who joined the protest.    “Those in office must take responsibility, and if they are not capable of doing so, they need to step down.”
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Susan Fenton)

4/6/2021 Hungary To Start Reopening After Reaching 2.5 Million Inoculations: PM Orban by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban looks on during a news conference with Italy's League party leader Matteo Salvini
and Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, after their meeting in Budapest, Hungary, April 1, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s businesses and services will begin reopening, as it has vaccinated more than a quarter of its 10 million people with at least a first shot, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday.
    Orban, who faces an election in a year, is trying to tame the world’s deadliest COVID-19 surge and balance that with the need to reopen the economy to avoid a second year of deep recession.
    “Today we reached an important milestone,” Orban said in a video on Facebook.    “For a year we have lived our lives among restrictions, curfews and personal loss."
    “In the past month we increased vaccinations 2.5 times, so from tomorrow on, shops can reopen and services can restart.    There will still be pandemic rules, please respect them.”
    The central European country reported record coronavirus fatalities last week and doctors described hospitals filling beyond capacity, signalling the government may be forced to postpone a reopening.
    Hungary has had the highest weekly per capita fatalities in the world for several weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
    Its health care system has come under extreme stress, the government has said, despite vaccinating a fifth of the population in one of the fastest inoculation drives in Europe.
    There were about 12,000 coronavirus patients in hospital on Monday, more than 1,400 of them on ventilators, the government said on Tuesday.
    The government has also vaccinated among the most citizens per capita in the European Union and imported the EU’s highest number of vaccine doses per capita, aiding a rapid inoculation drive.
    For now the reopening will not affect schools, which will reopen on April 17.    Hotels also will stay closed, as will restaurants, which can open only for takeout or delivery, according to the new rules.
    Doctors have warned that a hasty reopening would be premature.
    Janos Szlavik, the leading infection specialist at a Budapest COVID hospital, told private broadcaster Hir TV that “the country is far from a vaccination rate that allows reopening… herd immunity would be somewhere around 6-7 million people.”
    The head of the country’s top medical school, Bela Merkely, told the newscast at RTL Klub that the 2.5 million mark was a good target but 5 million would be the level that means safety for everyone.
    Medical associations have also called for stricter rules while business groups urged a gradual reopening.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai @mdunai; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Dan Grebler)

4/6/2021 Ukraine Calls For Path Into NATO After Russia Masses Troops by Pavel Polityuk and Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a joint news conference with European
Council President Charles Michel in Kyiv, Ukraine March 3, 2021. Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) -President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on NATO on Tuesday to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the Western military alliance, after days in which     Russia has massed troops near the conflict-hit Donbass region.
    Zelenskiy’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Moscow, which said Kyiv’s approach to NATO could further inflame the situation in Donbass, where violence has increased in recent days.
    The Pentagon, perhaps due to the sensitivities, flatly declined a request to comment on Zelenskiy’s request at a news briefing.
    Russian-backed separatists have fought since 2014 against Ukrainian forces in the Donbass, a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
Kyiv reported two more soldiers killed on Tuesday and, in a separate statement, Zelenskiy said 24 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the start of the year.
    “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbass,” Zelenskiy told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a phone call, according to a statement from Zelenskiy’s office.    A Membership Action Plan laying out Ukraine’s entry path into the alliance “will be a real signal for Russia,” he said.
    He also called for NATO members to strengthen their military presence in the Black Sea region.
    Stoltenberg in a tweet expressed “serious concern about Russia’s military activities in and around Ukraine & ongoing ceasefire violations.”
    Ukraine has launched a diplomatic offensive to shore up support from Western countries and NATO in its standoff with Russia over Donbass, sounding the alarm since late March over the build-up of Russian troops.    Russia says the troop movements are defensive and that NATO involvement would inflame the situation.
    The standoff has also pushed Ukrainian sovereign bonds to their lowest level since November.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said those living in eastern Ukraine would not accept NATO membership, and that rhetoric could further destabilise the Donbass region.
    “So far we’re not seeing an intention by the Ukrainian side to somehow calm down and move away from belligerent topics,” he said.
    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking during a visit to India, said Russia was worried by statements coming out of Kyiv, and was in touch with European countries about them.
    The Donbass conflict erupted in the months after Russian forces seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.    Ukraine and Western countries says Donbass separatists have been armed, led, funded and aided by Russians, including active Russian troops.    Moscow has denied interfering. While a ceasefire halted full-scale warfare in 2015, sporadic deadly fighting never ceased.
    Ukraine also said on Tuesday it wanted to move ongoing peace talks away from the Belarusian capital Minsk, saying Belarus was too much under the influence of Russia.
    “We don’t know where (the talks) could be relocated.    This is the subject of discussion,” Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Reuters.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets)

4/6/2021 White House Says Ukraine Has Long Aspired To Join NATO
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a briefing at the White House
in Washington, U.S., April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO as a member and that the Biden administration has been discussing that aspiration with the country.
    “We are strong supporters of them, we are engaged with them… but that is a decision for NATO to make,” Psaki said.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on NATO on Tuesday to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the alliance, after Russia has massed troops near the conflict-hit Donbass region.

4/6/2021 Navalny’s Doctors Arrested Outside Russian Prison by OAN Newsroom
Police officers detained the Alliance of Doctors union’s leader Anastasia Vasilyeva at the prison colony IK-2, which stands out among Russian penitentiary facilities for its
particularly strict regime, in Pokrov in the Vladimir region, 85 kilometers (53 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
    Dozens of Russians rallied in support of opposition leader Alexey Navalny outside the prison where he’s being held.    On Tuesday, a team of medics, led by Navalny’s personal doctor, arrived at the prison. However, the administration refused to let them in.
The Alliance of Doctors union’s leader Anastasia Vasilyeva, center in white, arrived to the prison colony IK-2, in the
Vladimir region, 85 kilometers (53 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
    Shortly after, a group of protesters arrived at the prison, demanding that doctors be given access to Navalny.
    “We understand Navalny’s medical condition a little bit better than the prison administration,” Anastasia Vasilyeva, Navalny’s doctor said.    “Here’s our plan, to talk to the chief correctional officer, to talk to the prison medic, and to come up with a solution to provide treatment to Navalny so that he ends his hunger strike.    Because what’s going on is bad for his health.”
    After a brief standoff, the doctors and several protesters were arrested by local police, citing security concerns.
    The Russian opposition is now planning a major nationwide strike to demand Navalny’s release in coming weeks.

4/7/2021 Navalny’s Allies Released From House Arrest In Moscow Court by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in
a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    A Moscow Court released the allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their house arrest.    On Wednesday, a Russian judge ruled the recent house arrests of Navalny’s brother Oleg and his top anti-corruption lawyer were illegal.
    The judge ruled the two will remain under a curfew for the remainder of their court proceedings, but they cannot be arrested or detained.    Navalny’s allies face a political case aimed at preventing them from taking part in upcoming parliamentary elections.
    The Kremlin has accused them of violating the COVID lockdown by organizing mass protests in the streets.
Russian opposition activist Lyubov Sobol, center, gestures as she walks to the court escorted by police and Russian Federal Bailiffs service officers in Moscow, Russia,
Monday April 5, 2021. A Moscow court will start considering the case against Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol, who is charged with unlawful entry into a dwelling.
In December Sobol rang the doorbell of a flat of a relative of an alleged FSB agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev, whom Navalny accused of his poisoning. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
    “First of all, we must not focus on these insane fabricated cases, but the most important thing is the lawlessness off-limits against Alexei Navalny, the man who they tried to kill with a chemical weapon,” Anti-Corruption Foundation attorney Lyubov Sobol stated.    “And now they are trying to kill him slowly and torture him in prison.”
    Meanwhile, Alexei Navalny said he’s winning in the battle against the Putin regime because the support of the majority of Russians is on the side of truth and transparency.

4/8/2021 Merkel Tells Putin To Pull Back Troops As Kremlin Accuses Ukraine Of Provocations by Thomas Escritt and Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces walks at fighting positions on the line of
separation near the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine April 3, 2021. REUTERS/Serhiy Takhmazov
    BERLIN/MOSCOW (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to pull back the Kremlin’s military build-up near the border with Ukraine, while he in turn accused Kyiv of “provocative actions” in the conflict region.
    Ukraine has raised the alarm over an increase in Russian forces near its eastern border as violence has risen along the line of contact separating its troops from Russian-backed separatists in its Donbass region.
    “The Chancellor demanded that this build-up be unwound in order to de-escalate the situation,” Germany’s government said in a readout of a telephone call between Merkel and Putin.
    Russia has said its forces pose no threat and are defensive, but they would stay there as long as Moscow saw fit.
    The Kremlin dismissed a Ukrainian accusation that the build-up was intended to distract from domestic issues, including jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, ahead of September parliamentary elections.
    “This has nothing to do with any detainees or anyone,” Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.    Russia has to react with caution when it has “such a restless region as Ukraine near our borders with the potential for renewed hostilities,” he added.
    A senior Kremlin official said on Thursday that Moscow could under certain circumstances be forced to defend its citizens in Donbass and that major hostilities could mark the beginning of the end of Ukraine as a country.
    The Kremlin said in its readout of the Merkel phone call that “Vladimir Putin noted provocative actions by Kyiv which is deliberately inflaming the situation along the line of contact.”
    Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy flew to eastern Donbass in a show of support on Thursday two days after he called on NATO to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the military bloc, whose expansion Moscow fiercely opposes.
    The rouble hit a five-month low on Wednesday a day after Russia said it had begun a planned inspection of its army’s combat readiness involving thousands of drills.
    On Thursday, Dmitry Kozak, a senior Kremlin official, said Ukraine’s government were like “children playing with matches.”
    “I support the assessment that the start of military action – this would be the beginning of the end of Ukraine,” the deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration said.
    At a news conference, Kozak was asked if Russia would protect its citizens in eastern Ukraine.
    Referring in his reply to Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, he said: “It all depends on the scale of the fire.    If there is, as our president says, Srebrenica, apparently we will have to step in to defend (them).”
    Ukraine and Western countries say Donbass separatists have been armed, led, funded and aided by Russians.    Moscow has denied interfering. While a ceasefire halted full-scale warfare in 2015, sporadic fighting continued.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow, Thomas Escritt in Berlin; additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Katya Golubkova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra, Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

4/8/2021 India’s Top Court Paves Way For Rohingya Deportations To Myanmar by Zeba Siddiqui
FILE PHOTO: People hold placards during a protest rally against what the protesters say are killings of Rohingya people
in Myanmar, in front of Myanmar consulate in Kolkata, India, September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a plea to stop the government from deporting to Myanmar some 150 Rohingya Muslims police detained last month, paving the way for them to be sent to a country where hundreds have been killed following a military coup.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been trying to send back Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from Myanmar who have found refuge in India after fleeing persecution and waves of violence over the years.
    Two refugees petitioned the Supreme Court for the release of Rohingya men and women detained in the northern Jammu region last month, and block the government from deporting them.
    But Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said the deportations could go ahead as long as officials followed due process.    “It is not possible to grant the interim relief prayed for,” the judge said in his order.
    “Regarding the contention raised on behalf of the petitioners about the present state of affairs in Myanmar, we have to state that we cannot comment upon something happening in another country,” he added.
    Hundreds of people have been killed in Myanmar since the army seized power in a coup on Feb. 1.
    The ruling has triggered panic among refugees in India, a Rohingya community leader in New Delhi said, declining to be named out of fear of reprisals.
    “This is a terrifying order made by the highest court in India,” he said.    “Given the horrifying situation in Myanmar, I had really hoped the judge would rule in our favour.”
    The Modi government says the Rohingya are in the country illegally and a security threat.    At least a dozen Rohingya have been deported since 2017, according to community leaders.
    Last week, officials tried deporting a 16-year-old Rohingya girl and drove her to the border, but that attempt failed as authorities in Myanmar were not reachable, officials said.
    Many of the Rohingya in India carry identity cards issued by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) recognising them as refugees, but the country is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention.    India also rejects a U.N. position that deporting the Rohingya violates the principle of refoulement – forcible return of refugees to a country where they face danger.
    Thursday’s order shows a “blatant disregard” for that principle, said Fazal Abdali, a lawyer involved in Rohingya deportation cases.
    “It sends a message that India is no longer a refuge for persecuted minorities,” Abdali said.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Lisa Shumaker)

4/8/2021 Kremlin Says It Has To Be Ready For Worst-Case U.S. Sanctions Scenario
FILE PHOTO: Russian and U.S. state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region,
Russia March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russia had to be ready for the worst-case scenario in terms of U.S. sanctions because of what it described as Washington’s hostile and unpredictable policy.
    The United States has threatened to impose new sanctions on Moscow over the treatment of jailed opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny and other issues, which has put pressure on the rouble and Russian markets.
    “The hostility and unpredictability of America’s actions force us in general to be prepared for the worst scenarios,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
    Moscow’s ties with Washington nosedived last month when Russia recalled its ambassador after U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought President Vladimir Putin was a killer.
    On Thursday, during a trip to Kazakhstan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington’s policy had created an impasse in ties and was “maybe even stupid.”
    Asked about Lavrov’s comments, Peskov said: “The minister is, as always, spot-on in his wording.”
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/8/2021 Putin Accuses Ukraine Of Provocations In Phone Call With Merkel: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Governor of Novgorod Region Andrei Nikitin
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 24, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of provocative action in eastern Ukraine
that was inflaming the situation there during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
    In a readout of the call, the Kremlin said that both sides had voiced concerns about the situation in eastern Ukraine.    They also discussed the case of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and Libya, the Kremlin said.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Alex Richardson)

4/8/2021 Russian Force On Ukraine Border Larger Than Any Time Since 2014, U.S. Says
FILE PHOTO: U.S. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at the White House
in Washington, U.S., April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia has more troops on Ukraine’s eastern border than at any time since 2014, when it annexed Crimea and backed separatist territory seizures, and the United States is concerned by growing “Russian aggressions,” the White House said on Thursday.
    The United States is discussing its concerns with its NATO allies, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing.
    The Russian buildup has become the latest point of friction in icy relations between Moscow and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, adding to disputes over arms control, human rights and other issues.
    Biden last week expressed “unwavering support” for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his confrontation with Russia, which in 2014 annexed the Crimea peninsula and backed separatists who seized large parts of the eastern Donbas region.
    Russia has said its troops are no threat and are defensive, but they would remain as long as the Kremlin sees fit.
    Psaki said that the United States “is increasingly concerned by recent escalating Russian aggressions in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s border.”
    “Russia now has more troops than at any time since 2014,” Psaki added, saying that five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past week.
    Psaki did not elaborate on the number of Russian troops deployed on Ukraine’s border.    But it was the first time that the Biden administration has given a description of the scale of the buildup.
    In March 2014, as the conflict in eastern Ukraine escalated, Western estimates put the number of Russian troops, militia or special forces on Ukraine’s border at 25,000 to more than 30,000.
    Psaki’s comments followed by hours a telephone call in which Chancellor Angela Merkel of NATO member Germany demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin pull his troops back to de-escalate the situation.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal and Jonathan Landay. Editing by Franklin Paul and Will Dunham)

4/9/2021 Analysis: Russian Military Buildup Raises Stakes As Fighting In Ukraine Intensifies by Anton Zverev, Matthias Williams and Jonathan Landay
A still image from video shows tanks and military vehicles in Maslovka, Voronezh Region,
Russia April 6, 2021. Video taken April 6, 2021. Video by REUTERS
    MOSCOW/KYIV/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Dozens of troop carriers and missile launchers sit on flatbed wagons lining up along tracks running through southern Russia, in a region bordering Ukraine.
    Tanks are parked in columns beside the railway, which runs parallel to the M4 highway. Military trucks rumble past, heading toward the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, close to the border.
    Ukraine and Western countries accuse Russia of sending troops and heavy weapons to support proxy fighters who seized a swathe of the eastern Donbass region in 2014.
    Moscow denies it is part of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and says it provides only humanitarian and political support to the separatists.
    The recent deployment of hardware close to Ukraine’s border, captured this week on video seen by Reuters, is what a source close to both the Kremlin and to pro-Russian separatists said was a deliberate show of force at a time of rising tensions between the former Soviet states.
    Two sources close to separatist leaders in Donbass said skirmishes were increasing around the separatist-held city of Donetsk, and Kyiv has reported that five of its soldiers have been killed in fighting there this week.
    But the military buildup is not a sign of a major escalation in the conflict, according to the source and the two people close to the separatists.
    “Moscow is doing it openly, deliberately uncovering tanks in the daytime.    This is not how war is prepared, this is just a show of strength,” said the source close to the Kremlin and to separatists.
    When asked about the footage of military equipment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined comment and referred Reuters to the Defence Ministry.    The Defence Ministry did not reply to requests for comment.
    In recent weeks, Ukraine has displayed caution.
    Since the build-up, it has said it is ready to defend itself against any attack in its eastern Donbass region, a mainly Russian-speaking area that fell to pro-Russian separatists who attacked in 2014.
    Kyiv says 14,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
    Washington and the NATO alliance have accused Russia of a “provocative” build-up, with unverified images of army trucks and missile launchers, taken from the ground and by satellite, widely circulating on social media.
    For its part, Russia accuses Ukraine of unspecified provocation and says it can move military assets around its country as it sees fit.
    A senior U.S. administration official said they believed Russia’s mobilisation was meant to test Zelenskiy and also perhaps challenge the resolve of the administration of President Joe Biden, who pledged “unwavering support” for his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy last week.
    Ukraine is no military match for Russia and it sits outside the NATO alliance.    Kyiv lost its Black Sea region of Crimea to Russian troops in 2014 without a fight.
    For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the threat of further economic sanctions by the West looms if countries deem Russia responsible for stoking the conflict.
    Russian state banks and oil firms have been hit hard with U.S.-led sanctions, and, while reserves remain healthy at $575 billion, they could take a significant hit if the punishments are harsh.
    Ukrainian security chief Oleksiy Danilov told Reuters he believed Putin was using the military build-up to distract Russians from an internal opposition movement led by jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, ahead of September parliamentary elections.
    “Today we are calculating all scenarios from the most critical to the most light, and I emphasize once again – it all depends on Putin,” Danilov said on Wednesday.
    Peskov denied there was any link to internal opposition, adding that Russia had to be cautious towards its “restless” neighbour Ukraine while repeating that the military build-up should not be a worry to anyone.
(Writing by Mark Bendeich. Additional reporting by Pavel)

4/9/2021 Putin Accuses Ukraine Of ‘Dangerous Provocative Actions’ In Call With Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with senior members of the government, via a
video conference call at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 8, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of “dangerous provocative actions” in its eastern Donbass region in a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the Kremlin said on Friday.
    The two leaders also discussed possible joint production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

4/9/2021 New Slovak PM Seeks To Mollify Russia In Vaccine Row by Radoslav Stoklasa and Robert Muller
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Finance Minister Eduard Heger gives a statement next to Former Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor
Matovic (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 30, 2021. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) -Slovakia’s new prime minister sought to defuse a row with Russia over a COVID-19 vaccine shipment on Friday, saying it was in Slovakia’s interest to secure the Russian Sputnik V vaccine after Moscow angrily accused it of contract violations.
    Slovakia ordered 2 million doses of Sputnik V from Russia, of which 200,000 arrived on March 1. The deal caused an uproar, having been brokered by the then Prime Minister Igor Matovic without informing his coalition partners, who opposed using Sputnik V in Slovakia for lacking EU regulator approval.
    Matovic was forced to leave his post, but the government’s troubles grew worse when a Slovak watchdog said this week it did not receive sufficient data to asses the Sputnik V doses in the first shipment and said they differed from those reviewed by international scientists and regulators.
    In response, Moscow accused the regulator of spreading “fake news” and called on Slovakia to return the doses delivered so far. [L1N2M10M6]
    Eduard Heger, who took over as prime minister from Matovic last week, tried to get the deal back on track in a statement published by his office on Friday.
    “Prime Minister Eduard Heger has eminent interest in mass vaccination of citizens, a condition for attaining collective immunity,” Heger’s office said in a statement.
    “He also sees the interest of citizens getting inoculated with the Sputnik V vaccine.    Therefore, it is the state’s obligation to secure this vaccine in the required quantity and quality.”
    The Kremlin said on Friday that the row would not undermine confidence in the vaccine and others could use it if Slovakia did not want to.
    Slovakia, which has a population of 5.5 million, ranked among the world’s worst-hit by the pandemic before an improvement in the past weeks.
    The Slovak health ministry has authorised the use of Sputnik V as an unregistered drug, but asked national drug agency SUKL to evaluate the vaccine before rolling it out under its inoculation programme.
    As of April 8, over 810,000 people had received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to official data.
    However the watchdog said this week it lacked sufficient data to make any conclusions on the Russian vaccine.    SUKL chief Zuzana Batova told Reuters on Friday Russia had failed to supply data including on trials and production but that the regulator cannot prevent the government from using it in its vaccination programme given the health ministry’s approval.
    Matovic, who took over Heger’s job as finance minister, travelled on Friday to Hungary, the only EU country using Sputnik V so far.    During his visit, he said Hungary would help Slovakia to do more laboratory tests on any batches received from Russia.
(Reporting by Robert Muller in Prague, Radoslav Stoklasa in Bratislava; additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Budapest and Gleb Stolyarov in MoscowEditing by Jan Lopatka and Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/11/2021 Another Ukrainian Soldier Dies In Donbas Amid Rising Tensions Between Kyiv & Moscow by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Friday, March 5, 2021 file photo, a Ukrainian serviceman on guard with a machine gun in his shelter near the front-line town
. of Krasnohorivka, eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s military said Tuesday, April 6, 2021 that two of its soldiers were killed within 24 hours in
the country’s east, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)
    Ukraine’s military said one soldier has been killed and another has been wounded as a result of artillery fire by Russian-backed separatists.
    The latest attack brought the total number of Ukranian soldiers killed by Russian-backed forces in Donbas to 27 this year alone.    Fighting in Donbas has taken place since 2014, when Russia violated the Budapest Memorandum and seized Crimea, which is recognized by the United Nations as sovereign territory of Ukraine.
    The U.S. and Britain failed to uphold the Budapest agreements at the time.
    “As we speak right now, I have to tell you we have real concerns about Russia’s actions on the border of Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated.    “There are more Russian forces massed on the border right now than at any time since 2014.”
    Back in 1994, Russia signed the agreement along with the United States, promising military protection of Ukraine, so long as Ukraine abandoned its nuclear weapons, which they upheld.
    Critics argued the Obama administration failed to uphold that agreement in 2014, and betrayed Ukraine after promising it membership in NATO.
    President Trump notably gave Javelin missiles to the country as a way to defend itself against pro-Russian separatists.

4/12/2021 Report: Biden Withholds $150M Of Ukraine Aid Amid Tensions by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden departs after attending Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown
neighborhood of Washington, Saturday, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    Joe Biden is withholding military aid from Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress in the face of Russian military maneuvers at its borders.
    Biden will reportedly provide only $125 million to Ukraine this year, although Congress has already approved a $275 million package.    White House officials said $150 million of that aid will be withheld until Ukraine conducts the reforms that Biden is asking for.
    Last year, President Trump was impeached and ultimately acquitted over a debunked allegation of withholding aid from Ukraine.
    Meanwhile, some believe Russia’s military is planning a new incursion into Ukraine, which has been left defenseless by Biden.
    “The U.S. is attempting to push Ukraine into war…such a war needs to be limited in scale because the U.S. tends to always minimize its risks,” stated Aleksey Podberezkin, director of the Center for Military and Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.    “They would not engage in it directly, but this is one of their methods to bring collapse to a country and ultimately make leadership of the country give up its sovereignty.”
    President Trump gave Ukraine $415 million in 2019, which included lethal weapons that arguably deterred Russian forces from waging war at the time.
    Meanwhile, Biden is evading calls to accept Ukraine into NATO, although such a promise was made back in 2008.

4/12/2021 Ukraine Says Putin Won’t Talk To Zelenskiy About Russian Troop Build-Up Despite Request by Ilya Zhegulev
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a joint news conference with European Council
President Charles Michel in Kyiv, Ukraine March 3, 2021. Sergey Dolzhenko/Pool/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has not yet been able to speak to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine despite lodging a request to do so, Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman said on Monday.
    Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over the worsening situation in the eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
    Iuliia Mendel, Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman, told Reuters on Monday the Ukrainian leader had so far tried and failed to speak to Putin about the matter.
    “The president’s office, of course, made a request to speak with Vladimir Putin.    We have not received an answer yet and we very much hope that this is not a refusal of dialogue,” said Mendel.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had not seen such a request for talks “in recent days” and was unaware one had been recently made.
    When asked if Putin had anything to say to Zelenskiy, Peskov said he hoped that what he called “political wisdom” would prevail in Kyiv when it came to de-escalating and avoiding a potential war.
    Mendel said Russia had massed more than 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and more than 40,000 troops in Crimea.
    Those figures are higher than those previously disclosed by the head of Ukraine’s armed forces to parliament in March.
    Zelenskiy is due to head to Paris for talks on Russia’s troop build-up and the escalating conflict in Donbass, she added.
    A meeting between Zelenskiy and French President Emmanuel Macron is expected by the end of this week.
    Ukraine fears the Kremlin is engineering a crisis to rally Russians around a foreign enemy ahead of parliamentary elections in September and shift the narrative away from domestic irritants such as jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, its security chief told Reuters last week.
    Putin on Friday accused Ukraine of “dangerous provocative actions” in the Donbass region.    The Kremlin says Russia is free to move forces around its own territory as it sees fit for defensive purposes.
    The standoff has sparked concern from Ukraine’s Western backers.    Washington and the NATO alliance have accused Russia of a “provocative” build-up.
    Zelenskiy has spoken of the need for NATO to admit Ukraine, a step Russia, citing its own security concerns, opposes.
    “On the one hand, you cannot panic, on the other hand, you need to understand that Russia has shown more than once that it can invade different countries,” Mendel said.
(Reporting by Ilya Zhegulev; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/12/2021 Russian Prison Threatens To Force Feed Hunger-Striking Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny: Allies
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Staff at the Russian prison holding hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny are threatening to force feed him, his allies said on Monday, warning he had lost 15 kg since he arrived at the facility last month.
    Navalny, 44, a prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike at the end of March in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.
    They say they have offered him proper treatment, but that he has refused it, insisting that he wants to be treated by a doctor of his choice from outside the facility, a request they have declined.
    Navalny, whom the West says has been wrongly jailed and should be freed, was moved to a prison clinic earlier this month after complaining of a high temperature and a bad cough.
    On Monday, his Twitter account, which his allies use to provide updates based on information from his lawyers who regularly visit him, said he had been discharged from the prison’s medical facility.
    “Given the severity of the hunger strike, the (prison)administration is threatening on a daily basis to start force-feeding,” the account said.
    There was no immediate comment from the state prison service.    The regional prison service did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    Navalny’s weight has fallen to 77 kg, a drop of 15 kg since he arrived at the prison facility 100 kilometres (62 miles) east of Moscow, his allies said.
    Navalny had already lost 8 kg in the facility before beginning his hunger strike, his allies said on April 1, something they blamed on guards deliberately depriving him of sleep.
    Prison authorities deny depriving him of sleep and have said previously that Navalny’s condition was satisfactory and that he has been provided with all necessary treatment.
    Navalny’s allies want an outside doctor of his choice to be able to check his condition.
    His Twitter account said on Monday that a doctor had still not been allowed in to see him.    It said his pulse was averaging 106 beats per minute, a reading that is higher than normal. His blood pressure was at 94/76, it said.     Navalny returned to Russia in January after recovering from what German doctors say was a nerve agent poisoning.    He was jailed in February on charges he said were trumped up for two and a half years.    Russia has said it has yet to see evidence he was poisoned.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/12/2021 Czech Foreign Minister Sacked After Losing Challenge To Party Leader
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek arrives at a European Union foreign ministers emergency meeting to
discuss ways to try to save the Iran nuclear deal, in Brussels, Belgium, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) -Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, who frequently warned against risks posed by Russia and China, was sacked on Monday after losing a bid to lead his own centre-left Social Democratic party (CSSD) party last week.
    His replacement may take a less resolute stance on China and possibly on other issues such as Russia and its “vaccine diplomacy” or its bid in a Czech nuclear power plant tender.
    President Milos Zeman, who favours close ties with Russia and China and often clashed with Petricek, dismissed him after receiving a proposal to do so from Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
    Petricek had questioned a plan to let a Russian bidder participate in a tender to build a new nuclear power plant, a view shared with the country’s intelligence community and parliamentary opposition.    The 6 billion euro ($7.2 billion) project is the Czech Republic’s biggest single public investment.
    That view and him losing his challenge to his party’s leader, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, were among the reasons for his dismissal, Petricek suggested at a televised news conference.
    The CSSD is the junior coalition party in the minority government led by Babis.    A general election is due in October in the Czech Republic, a member of both NATO and European Union.
    The current Minister of Culture, Lubomir Zaoralek, is meant to replace Petricek, Hamacek said. Zaoralek had held the job in the previous government.
    During his tenure, Zaoralek took part in initiatives seen as too open towards China.    In 2016, he prepared a declaration of top Czech officials assuring Beijing of good relations after a minister met in Prague with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, to China’s dismay.
    As Zaoralek has not yet decided whether to accept the nomination, Zeman appointed Hamacek to the post for the time being.
($1 = 0.8393 euros)
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alison Williams, Larry King and Hugh Lawson)

4/12/2021 Czech Schools, Shops Reopen After Long COVID-19 Shutdown by Jiri Skacel
A teacher shows a child how to perform an antigen rapid test at a re-opened elementary school, as restrictions ease following
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Prague, Czech Republic, April 12, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech schools, libraries, zoos and some stores reopened on Monday after months of coronavirus closures in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.
    A six-month state of emergency expired at midnight, lifting restrictions on movement including a night-time curfew and a ban on non-essential travel among districts.
    Children in pre-schools and grades 1-5 returned to classes, mostly on a weekly rotating basis.    Pupils must take a nasal swab test twice a week.
    “It is hugely visible on these young children when they are not in school,” said father Rudolf Zurek, accompanying his daughter inside a Prague school.    “This is good and I only hope that it lasts, that it is not overturned in a month and children go back home.”
    Kristyna Franova said her daughter was looking forward to returning to school along with her older sister, who still has to stay at home as higher grades remain closed for now.
    “We do not mind the testing, what we do mind is its low effectiveness, because if the tests have 40% reliability then it’s worthless and a joke,” she said.
    The Health Ministry reported 976 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the lowest daily number since September.    The seven-day average dropped to below 4,000, still high compared with most European Union countries but down from over 12,000 in early March, when the toughest lockdown was imposed.
    Many Czechs have been exhausted by the lengthy shutdowns, as well as policy turnarounds by the government which has admitted reopening too quickly in the past.
    It said last week that the end of the state of emergency meant a ban on meetings of more than two people inside and outside would be changed to 10 inside and 20 outside.
    But after an expert group warned against going too far, the new health minister – the fourth since September – said at the weekend the change would not happen, drawing a barrage of criticism including legal challenges.
    Many people have ignored the ban on gatherings and consumption of alcohol in public spaces.    Parks in Prague were packed last weekend during a sunny spell.
    The government has kept non-essential shops, restaurants and sport and entertainment centres shut since October except for a brief re-opening in December that was quickly reversed.
    Zoological gardens were among sites allowed to reopen on Monday for the first time since December.
    “People are coming despite the cold weather,” said Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek.    “For us this was something terrible. A closed zoo is defying its purpose.”
    The country of 10.7 million has reported 1.58 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started in March, 2020 and deaths are nearing 28,000, the highest per-capita rate in the world, according to Our World in Data.
    The Czech Republic has also been among the slowest countries in the EU to administer vaccinations, having given 2.09 million doses to 1.37 million people as of Sunday.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel and Jason Hovet,; Writing by Jan Lopatka, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Janet Lawrence and Ed Osmond)

4/12/2021 U.S., NATO Discuss Need For Russia To Cease Military Buildup Near Ukraine: State Department
FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian service member walks along fighting positions on the contact line with Russian-backed
separatist rebels near the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk Region, Ukraine February 13, 2021. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg discussed the Russian military buildup near Ukraine and other issues on Monday before the top U.S. diplomat’s trip to Brussels this week.
    Blinken and Stoltenberg discussed “the immediate need for Russia to cease its aggressive military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea” as well as prospects for advancing peace in Afghanistan, the State Department said in a statement.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu)

4/12/2021 On Gagarin Flight Anniversary, Putin Vows Russia Will Remain Space Power
FILE PHOTO: A board with Yuri Gagarin's portrait with backdrop of Moscow International Business Centre, also known as "Moskva-City", is seen on the eve
of Cosmonautics Day, in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2021. The bottom sign reads "60 years of manned space exploration". REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight on Monday with a pledge that Moscow would remain a key space and nuclear power.
    Gagarin became the first human in outer space on April 12, 1961, in one of the Soviet Union’s most important Cold War victories and a pivotal moment in its space race with the United States.
    The Soviet Union’s achievements in space continue to be a source of national pride and a patriotic rallying cry at a time when Moscow’s relations with Washington are at a post-Cold War low.
    To mark the anniversary, Putin laid flowers on a monument to Gagarin near his landing site close to the city of Engels, some 860 km (535 miles) southeast of Moscow.
    “This is without a doubt a great event that changed the world.    We will always be proud that it was our country that paved the road to outer space,” Putin told senior officials.
    In the 21st century, Russia must properly maintain its status as one of the leading nuclear and space powers, because the space sector is directly linked to defence.”
    Gagarin’s 108-minute orbit around the Earth propelled him to international fame and earned him the status of national hero in the Soviet Union, which erected statues and painted murals in his honour across its vast territory.
    The head of Russian space agency Roscosmos and members of the Communist Party laid flowers on Gagarin’s grave at the foot of the Kremlin wall on Monday.
    Other commemorative events were more light-hearted, including a neighbourhood clean-up in the Siberian city of Irkutsk where volunteers dressed up as characters from Star Wars.
    Celebrations also took place in space.
    “Our scientists and engineers demonstrated the unquestionable superiority of our homeland’s technology, and made us the (world’s) first space power,” cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky said in a video address from the International Space Station (ISS), flanked by three other Russian cosmonauts.
    Roscosmos has suffered a series of technical mishaps and corruption scandals in recent years, including during the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the country’s far east where contractors were accused of embezzling state funds.
    In 2019, Putin complained to government officials about corruption at the facility, and investigators said they were looking into allegations of fraud.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

4/15/2021 U.S. Imposes Wide Array Of Sanctions On Russia For ‘Malign’ Actions by Trevor Hunnicutt, Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday imposed a broad array of sanctions on Russia to punish it for alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. election, cyber-hacking, bullying Ukraine and other “malign” acts.
    The measures blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and placed limits on the Russian sovereign debt market.    More penalties could come, although Washington did not want to escalate matters, the Biden administration said.
    Moscow reacted angrily, saying this dangerously raised the temperature between the two countries.    It summoned the U.S. ambassador for what it said would be a tough conversation.
    Among the actions, President Joe Biden issue an executive order authorizing the U.S. government to sanction any sector of the Russian economy and used it to restrict Russia’s ability to issue sovereign debt to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election, an allegation Russia denies.
    Biden barred U.S. financial institutions from taking part in the primary market for rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from June 14. U.S. banks have been barred from taking part in the primary market for non-rouble sovereign bonds since 2019.
    The U.S. Treasury also blacklisted 32 entities and individuals which it said had carried out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election and other “acts of disinformation and interference.”
    In concert with the European Union, Britain, Australia and Canada, the Treasury also sanctioned eight individuals associated with Russia’s ongoing occupation and repression in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said Moscow would respond to the sanctions in the near future.
    Russia denies meddling in U.S. elections and orchestrating a cyber hack that used U.S. tech company SolarWinds Corp SWI.N to penetrate U.S. government networks.    It also denies using a nerve agent to poison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    It has brushed off allegations that it put bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
    “We have repeatedly warned the United States about the consequences of their hostile steps which dangerously raise the temperature of confrontation between our two countries,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.
    She said that although Biden had spoken to President Vladimir Putin about his interest in normalizing relations, his administration’s actions testified to the opposite.
    The ministry had summoned the U.S. ambassador, she said, adding: “It’s not going to be a pleasant meeting for him.”
    The White House said it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats in Washington D.C., including representatives of the Russian intelligence services and for the first time, formally named the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) as the perpetrator of the SolarWinds Corp hack.
    The U.S. government plans a new executive order to help strengthen its cybersecurity, a U.S. official told reporters, suggesting it could include such elements as encryption and multifactor authentication.
    U.S. intelligence agencies have “low to moderate” confidence in their assessment that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told reporters in a conference call.
    “Given the sensitivity of this matter, which involves the safety and well-being of our forces, it is being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels,” the White House said.    U.S. officials some of their response to Russian actions would be “unseen,” a hint they would involve U.S. spy agencies.
    Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, described the sanctions as “proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful Russian actions.”
    “His (Biden’s) goal is to provide a significant and credible response but not to escalate the situation,” Sullivan told CNN.    Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner said the sanctions were a “good first step” to showing that such actions were not acceptable.
    “The scale and scope of this hack are beyond any that we’ve seen before, and (the sanctions) should make clear that we will hold Russia and other adversaries accountable for committing this kind of malicious cyber activity against American targets,” he said in a statement.
    The actions initially sent the Russian rouble down more than 2% against the dollar and to a more than five-month low against the euro before clawing back some losses.
    Timothy Ash of Bluebay Asset Management said the rouble looked like it was enjoying a relief rally.
    “Market rallying as they are realizing this is pretty soft in reality.    No oligarchs. U.S. institutions cannot buy Russian sovereign debt in primary issuance but can get their Russian bank friends to buy it for them in primary, give them a fee, and then buy it in the secondary,” he said.
(Reporting By Trevor Hunnicutt, Tim Ahmann, Doina Chiacu in Washington and by Arshad Mohammed in St. Paul, Writing by Arshad Mohammed, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/15/2021 Russia Says Moscow Will Respond To U.S. Sanctions, Summons U.S. Envoy
file photo: Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends a news conference after a meeting of Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi in Moscow, Russia March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday it was “unavoidable” that Moscow would respond to new U.S. sanctions and that it had called in Washington’s ambassador in Moscow for “tough talks
    U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday authorised his government to sanction any sector of the Russian economy, including moves that may restrict Russia’s ability to issue sovereign debt, to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election – allegations Russia denies.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/15/2021 Exclusive: Biden To Bar U.S. Banks From Buying Russian Government Rouble Debt In Primary Markets by Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to withdraw American troops from
Afghanistan, at the White House, Washington, U.S., April 14, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
(Corrects headline to show ban applies to participating in primary market)
    (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will issue an executive order on Thursday authorizing the U.S. government to sanction any sector of the Russian economy and will use it to restrict Russia’s ability to issue sovereign debt to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election, senior Biden administration officials said.
    The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Biden would bar U.S. financial institutions from taking part in the primary market for rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from June 14. U.S. banks have been barred from taking part in the primary market for non-rouble sovereign bonds since 2019.
    The latest step is part of a wider array of sanctions the White House plans to announce on Thursday to make Russia pay a price for “malign” actions such as election interference, cyber-hacking, the use of chemical weapons and reports that it offered Taliban militants bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
    Among the sanctions to be unveiled are the blacklisting of about 30 entities as well as orders expelling about 10 Russian officials from the United States, one person familiar with the matter said.
    Russia denies meddling in U.S. elections, orchestrating a cyber hack that used U.S. tech company SolarWinds Corp to penetrate U.S. government networks, and using a nerve agent to poison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. It has also brushed off allegations of putting bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
    Biden on Tuesday spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin to raise concerns about these issues and the build up of Russian forces in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine, even as he proposed a summit between the two men.
    Biden appears to be trying to strike a balance between defending U.S. national interests against Russia while making clear he would prefer to have a less volatile relationship and to cooperate on issues such as curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
    “The American people should not be complicit in the Russian government’s malign activities by directly funding the Russian state at a time when the     Russian government is attempting to undermine our sovereignty and threaten our allies and partners,” said one official, echoing the administration’s desire for a “stable and predictable relationship” with Russia.
    “We don’t think that we need to continue on a negative trajectory in the relationship,” he said.    “However … we will defend our national interests and impose costs for Russian government actions that seem to harm our sovereignty.”
    “Our goal here is number one to demonstrate resolve by taking an impactful step,” he added.    “The second goal is to … be very clear in our signaling that we have the option to escalate in a far more forceful way if we so choose, and that really will be determined by Russia’s actions.”
    This official said the executive order authorized the U.S. government “to target any sector of the Russian economy,” adding “we will not hesitate to expand the Russian sovereign debt sanction if Russia escalates further.”
    The executive order on “Blocking Property with Respect to Specified, Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation,” was signed by Biden on Wednesday and will be made public on Thursday morning, U.S. officials said.
    The sovereign debt action, which will specifically cite the Russian central bank, national wealth fund, and finance ministry, extends a step the United States took in 2019, when it barred U.S. financial institutions from buying non-rouble-denominated debt directly from Russia in the primary market.
    Neither move, however, affects Russian sovereign debt traded in the secondary market, meaning that U.S. persons can continue to buy and sell such bonds there.
    The first U.S. official said the Russian rouble-denominated sovereign debt market was valued at about $185 billion, about a quarter of which is held by foreign investors. U.S. investors make up about half of the foreign holdings, he said.
    “Judging from history, removing U.S. investors as buyers in this market will likely cause a chilling effect that raises Russia’s borrowing cost, along with capital fight and a weaker currency – all of which leads to slower growth and higher inflation,” said this official.
    Dan Fried, a retired U.S. diplomat now at the Atlantic Council think tank, described the step outlined by the U.S. officials as “significant” and markedly stronger than former U.S. President Donald Trump’s actions.
    “We are signalling that we are prepared to do even more and there are steps that would be quite a bit stronger,” he said, citing the possibility of “restrictions on trading in the secondary market, which would be a huge deal.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

4/16/2021 Putin To Decide On Counter Sanctions Against Washington, Says Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the board of trustees of the Russian Geographical Society
via a video conference call in Moscow, Russia April 14, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would decide what counter sanctions to impose on Washington, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden hit Moscow with an array of punitive measures, but gave no indication of timing.
    The U.S. government on Thursday blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and barred U.S. banks from buying sovereign bonds from Russia’s central bank, national wealth fund and Finance Ministry.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was mulling its response.
    “The principle of reciprocity for such matters has not been cancelled, but everything will depend on the decisions made by the (Russian) head of state.”
    Peskov did not say when Putin would decide on counter sanctions, though Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday retaliatory sanctions would come soon.
    Peskov added that the Kremlin had yet to decide on Putin’s possible participation in a U.S.-led climate summit.
    “Their views categorically do not coincide when it comes to creating mutually beneficial relations and taking each other’s interests into account,” Peskov said of Putin and Biden.
    Peskov said the Russian leader had repeatedly said that Russia was ready to cooperate with the United States as much as Washington wanted to cooperate with Moscow.
    The U.S. sanctions were a response to Moscow’s alleged meddling in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, bullying Ukraine and other alleged malign actions.    Russia denies all the allegations.
    Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, was recalled to Moscow last month amid deteriorating ties.    He attended a meeting at the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

4/16/2021 Kremlin Critic Navalny Says Prison Staff Threatening To Force-Feed Him Imminently
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing
in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Friday that prison authorities have threatened to put him in a straitjacket to force-feed him unless he abandons his hunger strike because of his seriously deteriorating health.
    Navalny, 44, a prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike at the end of March in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.
    Prison authorities say they have offered him proper treatment, but that he has refused it and insists he should be treated by a doctor of his choice from outside the facility, a request they have declined.
    In a post on his Instagram page, which his allies use to provide updates based on information from his lawyers who regularly visit him, Navalny said that he was experiencing dizziness but that he was able to walk.
    “There was a female colonel standing over me this morning saying: your blood tests show a serious deterioration in your heath and (that there is) a risk.    If you don’t give up the hunger-strike, we’re ready to start force-feeding you now,” he wrote.
    “She went on to tell me about the delights of force-feeding.    A straitjacket and other joys,” he said.
    Russia jailed Navalny for two-and-a-half years in February for parole violations he said were trumped up.    He was arrested at the border as he returned to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning.
    An outspoken Putin critic for years, Navalny has organised nationwide anti-Kremlin street protests and carved out a following online with investigations alleging corruption by senior Russian officials.
    The local prison service in Vladimir region, where the IK-2 facility holding him is located around 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow, did not reply to a written request to comment.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev; editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/16/2021 Hungary Blocks EU Statement Criticising China Over Hong Kong, Diplomats Say by Robin Emmott and John Chalmers
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before the bilateral meeting of the
Second Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China April 25, 2019. Andrea Verdelli/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Hungary has blocked a European Union statement criticising China’s new security law in Hong Kong, two diplomats said, in a move likely to undermine efforts to confront Beijing’s curbing of freedoms in the former British colony.
    The EU, which aims to support Britain and the United States in upholding human rights in Hong Kong, was due to make its statement on Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, but failed to win the necessary agreement from all 27 EU states.
    “Hungary’s argument was that the EU already has too many issues with China,” a senior EU diplomat told Reuters. A second senior diplomat confirmed the blockage and Hungary’s position.    An EU official said the statement had been withdrawn from the EU’s approval process.
    China and the EU imposed tit-for-tat sanctions over Western accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang on March 22.
    Hungarian diplomats in Brussels were not immediately available for comment.    Budapest reluctantly supported the EU sanctions last month, calling them “pointless,” and hosted China’s defence minister for an official visit days after the EU sanctions decision.
    Hungary is a large recipient of Chinese investment.    In the past both Hungary and Greece, where China’s COSCO Shipping has a majority stake in Greece’s largest port, have blocked EU statements on China.
    Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong this week warned foreign powers that they would be taught a lesson if they tried to interfere in China’s management of the global financial hub, as tensions escalated between China and Western governments over the city.
    The West says the new Hong Kong security law breaks a promise to maintain a high degree of autonomy for the city since its 1997 return to Chinese rule.    China’s supporters say the law has restored order following mass anti-government and anti-China protests in 2019.
    The impasse is the latest blow to the EU’s credentials as a defender of human rights, one of the diplomats said, and raises questions about the economically powerful EU’s “soft power” that relies on inspiring countries to follow its example by outlawing the death penalty and upholding press freedoms.
    It also underscores the EU’s challenge in balancing business ties with China, its second-largest trade partner, and its ability to speak out against Chinese government crackdowns in Hong Kong, on human rights lawyers since 2015 and on Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China.
(Writing by Robin Emmott, Editing by William Maclean)

4/16/2021 Norway To Allow U.S. Military To Build On Its Soil In New Accord by Terje Solsvik and Nerijus Adomaitis
FILE PHOTO: U.S. marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, part of Marine Rotational Force - Europe take
part in "Reindeer 2", a Norwegian-U.S. military drill in Setermoen, Norway, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    OSLO (Reuters) -Norway, which shares a short border with giant neighbour Russia, said on Friday it has signed a revised agreement with the United States on how to regulate U.S. military activity on its soil.
    The agreement between the two NATO allies will let the U.S. build facilities at three Norwegian airfields and one naval base, but will not amount to separate U.S. bases, the government said.
    The deal made by the minority government of Prime Minister Erna Solberg must be ratified by Norway’s parliament before coming into force.
    “The agreement regulates and facilitates U.S. presence, training and exercises in Norway, thus facilitating rapid U.S. reinforcement of Norway in the event of crisis or war,” the government said.
    Relations between Norway and Russia, which share an Arctic border, gradually improved in the post-Cold War era before suffering a setback when Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
    That triggered tension in the north with a military build-up on both sides of the border and more frequent military manoeuvres, but both nations also seek to cooperate on local matters such as cross-border travel and fisheries.
    Since joining NATO as a founding member in 1949, Norway has said it would not allow foreign bases to be established in peacetime or the stockpiling of nuclear arms, although Western troops are welcome to exercise on its soil.
    “Our cooperation with our allies is under continuous development.    The agreement reaffirms Norway’s close relationship with the U.S. and confirms Norway’s key position on the northern flank of NATO,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said.
    “Our policies regarding the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory, the stockpiling or deployment of nuclear weapons and port visits remain unchanged,” she said.
    The Russian embassy in Oslo was not immediately available for comment.
(Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Nick Macfie)

4/16/2021 Hundreds Queue Up As Latvia Offers Walk-In AstraZeneca Shots by Janis Laizans and Andrius Sytas
A man receives his first dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine
at a mass vaccination centre in Riga, Latvia, April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
(Corrects spelling of Riga resident Kovalevs’ name in 4th paragraph)
    RIGA (Reuters) – People in their 30s showed up in their hundreds on Friday morning as Latvia offered the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone who wanted it in order to clear a growing backlog of the shot often refused by the old.
    Latvia is now vaccinating people over 65 and those with chronic illnesses, but many do not show up when told they will be given AstraZeneca.
    Denmark this week became the first country to stop using AstraZeneca altogether, as European officials investigate reports of rare blood clots.    Many countries have resumed using the shot, with some restricting it to certain age groups, mostly those aged above 50 or above 60.
    “We queued two and half hours before opening, around 6:30 in the morning, because this is the only way out of this for us,” Riga resident Vladlens Kovalevs told Reuters at a converted convention centre in the city.
    Partly due to hesitancy over AstraZeneca, Latvia has been lagging in vaccination, with only 7.8% of adults getting at least a single dose by Sunday, the worst result in the European Union, according to European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
    A total of about 8,000 doses were distributed to seven vaccination centres around the country, to be used over the weekend, in one of the first open-to-all COVID-19 vaccination schemes in the EU.
    “We had an AstraZeneca surplus and to avoid keeping vaccines in the warehouse we decided to make this walk-in line open to anyone,” said the chief of Latvia’s vaccination programme, Eva Juhnevica.
    Latvia and neighbouring Lithuania asked Denmark to sell them its leftover vaccines to speed up their own efforts.
    In the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, a similar backlog of vaccines was cleared after being offered to the young, who were not expecting to get a shot so early.
    “People over 65 in Vilnius are extremely reluctant to take AstraZeneca vaccine – so we began giving them Pfizer vaccine, and opened up AstraZeneca vaccination to priority groups containing younger people,” Vilnius mayor Remigijus Simasius told Reuters.    “And the vaccination is now going smoothly.”
(Reporting by Janis Laizans in Riga and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Writing by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/16/2021 Russian Military Jet Escorted U.S. Spy Plane Over The Pacific – TASS
A U.S. Air Force RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft is seen from a cockpit of the Russian fighter jet over the Pacific Ocean near
the coast of Kamchatka, in this still image taken from a video released April 16, 2021. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian Defence Ministry said on Friday an MiG-31 fighter jet had escorted an RC-135 U.S. strategic reconnaissance aircraft over the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Kamchatka, TASS news agency>     The ministry said the U.S. aircraft had not violated Russia’s borders.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

4/16/2021 Unofficial EU Note On Redrawing Balkan Borders Causes Angst In Bosnia by Daria Sito-Sucic and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    SARAJEVO/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – An unofficial European Union diplomatic note seen by Reuters on redrawing borders along ethnic lines in the Western Balkans has caused angst and distress in Bosnia, which fears an unexpected shift in EU strategy.
    The document was first leaked to the Slovenian media and ascribed to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who reportedly had sent it to European Council President Charles Michel as a proposal on how to deal with the region after Slovenia takes over presidency of the EU in July.
    But Jansa denied that he had sent the document and accused “fake media” of trying to harm Slovenia’s efforts to help integrate the Western Balkan states into the wealthy bloc.
    The EU did not comment, but one Brussels diplomat told Reuters that EU member states have not discussed the paper.
    Reuters has not been able to verify the authenticity of the diplomatic note, although it has been circulating in official EU channels and has been seen by many EU diplomats and officials.
    The paper states that the main obstacles to a speedier EU integration of the Balkan states are the unresolved national issues of Serbs, Croats and Albanians, which should be settled by creating a Greater Serbia, a Greater Albania and a Greater Croatia.
    The document proposes that Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic be joined to Serbia, Croat-dominated cantons of Bosnia be integrated into Croatia, and Kosovo be merged with Albania.
    “We have never seen this proposal if it exists,” Bulgaria’s EU spokesman in Brussels told Reuters.
    Such diplomatic notes are common in EU policymaking.    Although they are not made public, typically EU states are happy to claim ownership if they author them.
    In Bosnia, where 100,000 people were killed in nearly four years of war in the 1990s during which Serbs and Croats had sought to form their own ethnic statelets, the note has been perceived as a new threat to its territorial unity, this time by some EU member countries.
    Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency, told Michel in a letter on Friday that the document has caused instability and distress in Bosnia, where Bosnian Serbs have for years talked about the secession of their region from Bosnia.
    Dzaferovic urged Michel immediately to put a stop to initiatives that could bring about a new war in the region.
    The EU delegation in Bosnia tried to calm the situation, saying in a statement: “The EU is unequivocally committed to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. … this is our firm … and unchanged position.”
    German Europe Minister Michael Roth wrote on Twitter on Friday: “Countries on #WesternBalkans have a future only as multiethnic and multireligious societies.    Regional reconciliation and cooperation are the keys for peace, democracy and prosperity.    Drawing new frontiers is a dangerous path.”
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/16/2021 Biden Announces Sanctions Against Russia, Kremlin Still Weighing How To Respond by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration said it’s expelling a number of Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions on several companies in response to actions it says the Kremlin made against the U.S.
    According to reports, the sanctions were meant as punitive action against Moscow after Russia allegedly interfered in the 2020 presidential election.    It also came in response to the massive SolarWinds hack blamed on Russian intelligence agencies.
    “Today, I have approved several steps, including expulsion of several Russian officials as a consequence of their actions,” Joe Biden said.    “I’ve also signed an executive order authorizing new measures, including sanctions, to address specific harmful actions that Russia has taken against U.S. interests.”
    According to Joe Biden, the U.S. is not looking to escalate tensions with Russia, however, if Russia seeks to “violate the U.S., it will respond.”
    “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden added.    “We want a stable, predictable relationship and if Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further action to respond.”
    The sanctions expelled 10 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and targeted six Russian companies that supported cyber efforts in the SolarWinds hack.    Thirty-two additional individuals and entities were also named and accused of trying to influence the election and spreading disinformation.
    There is no evidence, however, that Russia or any other influence changed votes or manipulated the outcome of the election.
    The White House did emphasize the sanctions were not in response to a report that claimed Russia had paid the Taliban to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.    In response, the Kremlin condemned the sanctions, saying President Vladimir Putin had not yet decided what action he would take.
    “Our approach regarding the sanctions can not change,” Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said.    “We condemn any such aspirations of sanctions.    We consider them illegal, and in any case, the principle of reciprocity is still in place — reciprocity in such a way that we can best ensure our own interests.”
    Officials said they were upset the White House announced the sanctions just two days after Biden spoke with Putin.    They emphasized the need for a summit and a desire to normalize relations.
    Both Biden and the Kremlin said they were warned, however, that measures were coming.
    Russian citizens said the relationship between the two countries is getting worse and added, dialogue between the two leaders is needed to find the roots of the conflict.
    “We need to approach this issue diplomatically, to initiate meetings between the two heads of our states,” Moscow resident Evgeniy Chirkov said.    “I’ve heard that Putin and Biden will be meeting on the neutral territory.    So yes, to meet and to find compromises in the relationship between our countries.”
    According to experts, Putin will consider the impact of the sanctions, but the action is not likely to cause him to make a 180 degree pivot in behavior.

4/16/2021 Raul Castro Steps Down As Leader Of Cuba’s Communist Party by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this March 17, 2015 file photo, Cuba’s President Raul Castro listened to the Cuban and Venezuelan national anthems
during his welcome ceremony at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)
    Raul Castro stepped down as the leader of Cuba’s Communist Party.
    Castro resigned during the Communist Party’s eighth congress on Friday, and will certify President Miguel Díaz-Canel as the party’s next secretary-general.
    Castro, who will be 90 this year, and his late brother Fidel, led the Communist Party in Cuba since 1959.
    The future generation of leadership under Diaz-Canel is not expected to make any drastic changes to the country’s one-party socialist model.
Raul Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party and former president, waved to members at the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba’s opening session,
as Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, applauded at the Convention Palace, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Ariel Ley Royero/ACN via AP)
    Castro indicated his impending resignation to the seventh congress in 2016.
    “Nobody has obliged me to make this decision,” Castro stated.    “I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism.”
    Diaz- Canel and the next generation are expected to address Cuba’s severe economic crisis and pandemic relief plan.
    Meanwhile, dissenters in the country and abroad are calling on Biden to put pressure on Cuba to push for Democratic change.

4/16/2021 Russia Announces Expulsion Of 10 U.S. Diplomats by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this file photo taken on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, The U.S. Embassy with its national flag, seen behind
a monument to the Workers of 1905 Revolution in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    Russia said it will be asking 10 U.S. diplomats to leave the country, in response to sanctions leveled against it by the Biden administration.
    The Kremlin made the announcement on Friday, saying it suggested the U.S. ambassador head home.
    Moscow is also reportedly seeking to add eight U.S. officials to its sanction list, as well as restricting U.S. non-government organizations from interfering in its politics.
    Experts had warned sanctions by Russia would likely target U.S. diplomats to mirror the sanctions imposed by the U.S.
    “The chosen format of sanctions will not lead to serious and long-term consequences for the Russian economy and Russian finances,” Dmitri Trenin, director at the Carnegie Research Center stated.    “But also everything that happens in the economic relations between Russia and the United States, Russia and the West in general, leads to the increasing economic independence of Russia from the West.”
    The Kremlin added while Russia could take more “painful measures,” it’s not acting on it.
    This came in retaliation for the Biden administration announcing it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats from the country.

4/18/2021 White House Alleges Consequences For Harm To Navalny by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stood
in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    National security adviser Jake Sullivan attempted to claim the Biden administration is taking a hard stance on Russia over the imprisonment and mistreatment of Alexei Navalny.
    In an interview on Sunday, Sullivan said Joe Biden has made it clear to Russia that if Navalny dies in prison, they will be held accountable by the international community.
    Biden failed to publicly address the issue when speaking about recent sanctions against Russia last week and was seemingly unaware of the opposition leader’s condition when confronted by reporters.
    Sullivan refused to name any specific measures the administration would impose should something happen.
    Doctors have said Navalny could die at any moment without intervention.

4/19/2021 Czechs Say Russian Retaliation Stronger Than Expected, Seeks EU Solidarity by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka
Czech diplomats expelled from Russia arrive at Vaclav Havel Airport in
Prague, Czech Republic April 19, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech Republic said on Monday Russia’s eviction of 20 Czech embassy employees in response to Prague’s expulsion of 18 Russian staff was a stronger than expected reaction and the government would consider further steps.
    Prague expelled the Russian diplomats on Saturday, saying it suspected that Russian intelligence had been involved in explosions at an ammunition depot in October and December 2014.
    Moscow has denied any of its agents were involved in the blast, which killed two people, branding the Czech stance a provocation.    The row is the biggest between Prague and Moscow since the end of Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1989.
    The Czech Republic’s acting foreign minister, Jan Hamacek, said he had asked other European Union foreign ministers during a video conference on Monday for “an expression of solidarity.”
    “The reaction (by Russia) is stronger than we had expected, it is more diplomats than the number of intelligence officers we expelled,” Hamacek told a televised news conference.
    “I will meet the prime minister and discuss if and when the Czech side may need to take some further steps.”
    Commenting later on the 2014 attack, Prime Minister Andrej Babis rejected opposition claims that it amounted to state terrorism, but said it was an unacceptable operation by Russian agents that went wrong.
    “Russia was not attacking the Czech Republic.    The agents attacked – we can call it a terrorist act by these agents – the goods of a Bulgarian arms trader, who was probably selling these arms to parties fighting Russia,” Babis told a news conference.
    “The ammunition was supposed to explode en route.    Of course it is unacceptable that GRU agents were undertaking the operation here – which they bungled,” he said.
    In an interview with a local newspaper, Hamacek confirmed the trader to have been Emilian Gebrev, an arms factory owner who survived an attempt to poison him in 2015.    Bulgarian prosecutors charged three Russians in absentia in 2020 with his attempted murder.
    Gebrev’s company EMCO denied on Monday that it had made or planned any shipment from the Czech warehouse in the months before the explosion or for at least a year after the blast.
    Prague has previously said the warehouse blast was caused by the same agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence blamed for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018.    Moscow also denies involvement in the Skripal case.
    Czech Prosecutor General Pavel Zeman said on Monday photocopies of passports had helped investigators to determine that the main suspects in the blast were the same as those charged by British prosecutors with the 2018 poison attack in the English city of Salisbury.
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticised Prague’s decision not to disclose all details of its investigation to Moscow and described the affair as a blow to bilateral relations.
    “This is proof that this whole story is a fabricated, dirty, disgusting fake,” RIA news agency cited Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
    The Kremlin, commenting on the allegations and on the subsequent diplomatic expulsions, called the Czech Republic’s actions “provocative and unfriendly.”
    The Czech Foreign Ministry said the Russian Embassy in Prague had 129 diplomats and other personnel, and two regional consulates – about twice the size of the Czech Embassy in Moscow, which the Russian countermeasure left severely hit.
(Reporting by Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague, Alexander Marrow in Moscow, Tsvetelia Tsolova in SofiaEditing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

4/19/2021 Pandemic Drives Traditional Burning Of Swiss Snowman Into Alps
The Boeoegg, a snowman made of wadding and filled with firecrackers, burns in a bonfire on the landmark of Devil's Bridge
in the Schoellenen Gorge near the Alpine resort of Andermatt, Switzerland April 19, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ANDERMATT, Switzerland (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic saw a traditional Swiss annual rite of spring, the burning of the Boeoegg snowman, moved to the remote Devil’s Bridge in central Switzerland on Monday to deter crowds, the first time it has taken place outside Zurich.
    Made of wadding and filled with firecrackers, the Boeoegg’s fiery end is supposed to signal how much longer winter will last.    The faster its head explodes; the sooner spring will arrive.
    With spectators not allowed, a television broadcast showed the decapitation took almost 13 minutes this year – below the average time.     Officials in Zurich, Switzerland’s financial capital, cancelled the event for the second year in a row to prevent crowds from gathering.
    It moved this year to the remote Devil’s Bridge near the Gotthard Pass in Uri canton in the Alps, which legend has it the Devil agreed to build in return for the first soul to cross it, only to be outwitted by locals who sent a billy goat across first.
(Reporting by Arnd Wiegmann, Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

4/19/2021 Putin To Address Biden’s Climate Summit Despite Crisis In U.S.-Russia Ties
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the board of trustees of the Russian Geographical
Society via a video conference call in Moscow, Russia April 14, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin will deliver a speech on Thursday at an online climate change summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, the Kremlin said, despite a deep crisis in relations between Moscow and Washington.
    Putin’s attendance signals he is still open to dialogue with the United States even though the two countries have imposed new sanctions on each other in the past few days.    He has yet to accept or decline a separate invitation from Biden to a bilateral summit.
    Biden has invited 40 world leaders to the climate summit, part of his effort to make the fight against global warming a top priority.
    Putin, in his speech, will “outline Russia’s approaches in the context of forging broad international cooperation aimed at overcoming the negative effects of global climate change,” the Kremlin said.
    Washington imposed new sanctions on Russia last Thursday for alleged malign activity including interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking and bullying neighbouring Ukraine.
    Russia denied the accusations and retaliated with sanctions of its own the following day.
    The United States has warned Russia there will be further consequences if Alexei Navalny, an opposition politician who has been on hunger strike in prison for nearly three weeks, were to die.    Russia has said it is ready to impose more “painful” measures against Washington if tensions escalate further.
    Relations slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer” and Moscow recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/19/2021 U.S., Russia Security Advisers Discuss Presidential Summit Prospects – White House
FILE PHOTO: White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan delivers remarks during a press briefing
inside the White House in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday discussed with his Russian counterpart bilateral issues, those of regional and global concern and the prospects of a summit between the U.S. and Russian presidents, the White House said.
    Sullivan and Nikolay Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, agreed in their telephone call “to continue to stay in touch,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Tim Ahman, Editing by Franklin Paul)

4/19/2021 Navalny Transferred To Russian Prison Hospital, Health Worsening, Lawyer Says by Alexander Reshetnikov and Anton Zverev
An exterior view shows the IK-3 penal colony, which houses a hospital where jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was reportedly transferred,
in Vladimir, Russia April 19, 2021. Alexei Liptser, a lawyer for Navalny, said the hunger-striking opposition politician was earlier
transferred to a prison hospital at a penal colony in the town of Vladimir following a decision by authorities. REUTERS/Alexander Reshetnikov
    VLADIMIR, Russia (Reuters) – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a prison hospital, supporters and officials said on Monday, 20 days into a hunger strike that has led the United States to warn Moscow of serious repercussions if he should die in jail.
    Navalny’s lawyer Alexei Liptser said after visiting him in the hospital of penal colony No. 3 in the city of Vladimir, east of Moscow, that his health was deteriorating and he had again been denied access to his own doctors.
    “All the symptoms that he had before, they remain the same.    Numbness in the arms and legs, back pain – they aren’t going away…The situation is only getting worse,” Liptser told Reuters.
    Russia’s prison service said Navalny, 44, was in a “satisfactory” state and he was being given “vitamin therapy” with his consent.
    The Kremlin said it did not have information on Navalny’s condition and it was not the role of President Vladimir Putin to monitor the health of prisoners.
    Navalny’s case has further isolated Moscow at a time when U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has announced tougher economic sanctions and the Czech Republic, a member of NATO and the European Union, has expelled Russian spies, accusing Moscow of a role in deadly 2014 explosions at an arms storage depot.
    Liptser said Navalny looked weak and thinner.    He said he had been searched for two hours on arrival at the penal colony.    “All that naturally has a negative effect on a starving man who already had no strength.”
    Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said the transfer had taken place on Sunday, without the politician’s supporters being informed.
    Ivan Zhdanov, head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said on Twitter the move “can only be understood to mean Navalny’s condition has worsened, and worsened in such a way that even the torturer admits it.”
    The Navalny camp plans mass countrywide demonstrations on Wednesday from Kaliningrad in Russia’s far west to Vladivostok on its Pacific coast.
    Russian authorities, who have broken up previous allies and arrested thousands of people, said the planned protests were illegal and warned people not to take to the streets.
    Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has catalogued the vast wealth accumulated by senior Russian officials he brands “swindlers and thieves,” is serving a 2-1/2 year sentence on old embezzlement charges he calls trumped up.
    He was arrested on his return to Russia in January after treatment in Germany for what German authorities say was poisoning in Russia with a banned nerve agent.    He and Western governments called this an attempted assassination. The Kremlin denies any blame.
    Navalny went on hunger strike on March 31 to protest against what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to provide him with treatment for leg and back pain.    Russia says he has been treated well and is exaggerating illness to gain attention.
    The United States imposed new sanctions on Russia last Thursday over alleged malign actions, denied by Moscow, including interference in last year’s presidential election, cyberhacking, and bullying of neighbouring Ukraine.
    Russia replied with sanctions of its own a day later.
    U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that Washington had told Moscow “there will be consequences” if Navalny dies in prison, but did not mention specifics.
    The Kremlin said on Monday it would retaliate for any further sanctions and rejected foreign countries’ statements on the Navalny case.    “The state of health of those convicted and jailed on Russian territory cannot and should not be a theme of their interest,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    Moscow has largely shrugged off international pressure since becoming a pariah to the West in 2014 when it seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed an insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
    But the arrival of a new administration in Washington in January could change the calculus if Biden presses ahead with tougher sanctions than under former President Donald Trump.
    Although Russia-U.S. relations are at a post-Cold War low, the two sides are still talking.
    National security adviser Sullivan and his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev spoke by phone on Monday, touching on the possibility of a summit that Biden has proposed to Putin.    The Kremlin said Putin would take part in a separate online climate summit that Biden is hosting on Thursday.
    Moscow expelled 20 Czech diplomats on Sunday in retaliation for the Czech Republic kicking out 18 Russians, after Prague accused Russia of a role in the arms depot blasts.    The Czech Republic said on Monday Moscow’s decision to expel more Czechs than the number of Russians expelled by Prague was unexpected, and it called for a show of support from European allies.
    The arms depot explosions in October and December 2014 came as NATO considered transferring Czech arms to Ukraine to help it fight Russian-backed separatists.    Two people were found dead at the depot after the initial blast.
    Prague said it had learned that two Russian agents, later accused by Britain of poisoning a former Russian spy in England, were in the Czech Republic at the time of the blasts.    The Kremlin has denied any role.
(Reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov in Vladimir and Anton Zverev in Moscow; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Anastasia Teterevleva, Maxim Rodionov and Maria Vasiliyeva in MOSCOW, Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka in PRAGUE; Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/19/2021 EU Brokers Deal To End Political Crisis In Georgia
European Council President Charles Michel attends a video conference meeting with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili over the signature of a deal
to end the current political crisis in Georgia at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2021. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -European diplomats have helped broker an agreement to end a political crisis in the South Caucasus country of Georgia, European Council President Charles Michel said on Monday.
    Georgia has been locked in a political crisis since the Georgian Dream ruling party won a parliamentary election last October in a vote the opposition said was marred by violations.
    The February detention of opposition politician Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM), sparked street protests and led to the resignation of the country’s prime minister, exacerbating the crisis.
    The deal brokered by the EU called on its signatories to “conduct our duties until the next parliamentary elections with mutual respect and in recognition of the importance of unity in the interest of Georgia’s stability.”
    It also included, among other things, judicial and electoral reforms and called on the country to initiate an amnesty law within one week of the signing for “all violations and convictions stemming from the 19-21 June 2019 protests.”
    This agreement could result in Melia being freed.    The opposition politician was accused of inciting violence at the protests, a charge he has called politically motivated.
    “This agreement is not the finish line,” Michel told participants in a signing ceremony via video link from Brussels.    “This agreement is the starting point – the starting point for your work in consolidating Georgia’s democracy and your work in taking Georgia forward in its Euro-Atlantic future.”
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Editing by Chris Reese, Will Dunham and Timothy Heritage)

4/19/2021 Czechs Exclude Rosatom From Nuclear Tender After Dispute With Russia
FILE PHOTO: The cooling towers of the Czech nuclear power plant are seen at Dukovany,
125 miles (200 kilometers) east from Prague, March 15, 2011. REUTERS/Petr Josek/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government will not invite Russia’s Rosatom to take part in security assessments before a planned tender for a new unit at the     Dukovany nuclear power plant, Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said on Monday.
    The decision, which effectively excludes Russia from the multi-billion dollar tender, was announced two days after Prague expelled 18 Russian embassy staff, saying it suspected Russian intelligence was involved in explosions at an ammunition depot in 2014.
    Russia has dismissed the accusation as absurd.
    Rosatom called the decision to exclude it regrettable and politically motivated.
    “We regret this decision of the Czech authorities, because the Russian and Czech nuclear industries had serious prospects for the development of a mutually beneficial partnership, not only in the Czech Republic, but through joint work in third countries as well,” it said.
    “The Russian offer envisioned the involvement of hundreds of Czech and European companies in the project of the Dukovany nuclear power plant expansion project, which could have included contracts worth billions of euros.    Thus, by excluding Rosatom from the tender, the Czech authorities are pushing aside their own national industry.”
    The row is the biggest between Moscow and Prague since the end of Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1989.
    Debate was already fierce over whether Russia should have a place in the tender for a new unit to replace aging blocks at Dukovany, owned by majority state-controlled utility CEZ.
    The Industry Ministry announced in March a pre-qualification round, set as a security assessment for potential bidders, before the launch of the tender which is expected after a new government takes office following an election due in October.
    Havlicek said on Monday that invitations for the assessments would be sent to U.S. group Westinghouse, France’s EdF and South Korea’s KHNP.    Rosatom would also be excluded from delivering key nuclear technology even in a consortium.
    He reiterated that the next government would launch the tender and determine the list of bidders.
    Security services had previously warned of risks of Russian or Chinese participation.
    Czech political parties agreed to exclude China earlier this year but, before the row with Russia, Havlicek and other state officials had sought Russian participation to keep competition up.
(Reporting by Robert Muller, writing by Jason Hovet, additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; editing by Andrew Heavens, Timothy Heritage and Sonya Hepinstall)

4/20/2021 EU says 100K Russian troops near Ukraine by Raf Casert, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BRUSSELS – The European Union’s foreign policy chief now estimates that more than 100,000 Russian troops have already amassed for the biggest military buildup ever near Ukraine’s borders and that it will only take “a spark” to set off a confrontation.
    Josep Borrell also said Monday that the condition of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was “critical” and that the 27-nation group would hold the Kremlin accountable for his health and safety.
    Despite the developments, Borrell said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers that, “for the time being, there is no move in the field of more sanctions” to be imposed on Russia.
    He also said there wasn’t a request for a synchronized EU diplomatic move of expulsions in the standoff between Czech Republic, an EU member state, and Russia following Prague’s accusation that Moscow was involved in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion.
    Initially, Borrell told reporters that “there’s more than 150,000 Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian borders and in Crimea,” but his services corrected the figure to over 100,000.

4/20/2021 Ailing Navalny Cracks ‘Skeleton’ Jokes On Instagram
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were
detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Three weeks into a hunger strike that threatens to kill him, Alexei Navalny made light of his skeletal state in a darkly humorous social media post on Tuesday, and said he was grateful for support from Russia and around the world.
    The Russian opposition leader was transferred on Sunday to a prison hospital in Vladimir, east of Moscow, after starving himself since March 31 in protest at the refusal of authorities to grant him access to his own doctors.
    In a post on Instagram, he told his supporters they would laugh if they could see him staggering round his cell and trying to swat mosquitoes with a rolled-up tube of paper.
    “You’d laugh if you could see me now.    A skeleton staggering round his cell,” the 44-year-old said.    “Now they really could use me to scare children who refuse to eat.”
    Navalny has been a thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin for the past decade, wielding satire and humour to expose allegations of official corruption and building up a huge online following.
    He maintained a stream of witty jibes against the Kremlin even while recovering last year from being poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in Siberia.
    His supporters say he has numbness in his arms and legs, sharp pain in his back and dangerously elevated potassium levels, putting him at risk of kidney failure and cardiac arrest.
    “I laughed when I read quotes from the luminaries of medicine that with such a level of potassium as in my samples, I should either be in intensive care or in a coffin.    Well, no, it’s not that simple to get rid of me.    After Novichok, potassium’s not so terrible,” Navalny said.
    He did not refer directly to his allies’ calls for mass protests across Russia on Wednesday, but said his spirits had been lifted by a fleeting visit from a lawyer on Monday who told him about the level of support for him in Russia and abroad.
    “There are a lot of people like me who have nothing but a mug of water, hope and faith in their convictions,” Navalny said.    “,i>It is extremely important for them to feel your support and solidarity… There is no better weapon against injustice and lawlessness.”
(Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/20/2021 Czechs Urge Allies To Expel Russian Intelligence Officers In Act Of Solidarity
FILE PHOTO: A woman holds an EU flag next to police officers during a protest over the Russian intelligence services alleged involvement in an ammunition
depot explosion in Vrbetice area in 2014, outside the Russian Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic April 18, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic will ask European Union and NATO allies to take action in solidarity with Prague in its row with Moscow, including expelling Russian intelligence officers from their countries, acting Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said on Tuesday.
    The central European country on Saturday evicted 18 Russian embassy staff, whom it identified as intelligence officers, over suspicions that Russian secret services were behind explosions at a privately-operated arms depot in 2014.
    Moscow has denied any of its agents were involved in the blast, which killed two people, branding the Czech stance a provocation, and expelled 20 Czech diplomats and other staff in retaliation.
    The row is the biggest between Prague and Moscow since the end of Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1989, and comes amid growing tensions between Russia and the west.
    “We will call for collective action by European Union and NATO countries that will be aimed at a solidarity expulsion of identified members of Russian intelligence service from EU and NATO member states,” Hamacek told a televised news conference.
    Hamacek said he had summoned Russia’s ambassador in Prague for Wednesday, where he would inform him of a further Czech reaction.    He declined to say what the reaction would be.
    Czech officials have pointed out Russia had more diplomats in Prague than the Czech Republic had in Moscow, which had made the Russian expulsions more damaging to embassy operations.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that the Czech Republic’s allegations of Russian involvement in the 2014 explosion were unfounded and formed part of a wider series of attempts to contain Russia.
    Prague has previously said it had evidence backing the suspicion that the warehouse blast was caused by the same agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence blamed for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018. Moscow also denies involvement in the Skripal case. (Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/20/2021 Russia Detains Navalny Allies On Eve Of Planned Mass Protests by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in
Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian police detained allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday and raided two of his regional offices, his supporters said, a day before they planned to stage mass protests over his ailing health.
    Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critic, declared a hunger strike on March 31 to demand access to better medical care.    He was moved to a prison with a hospital on Sunday. His supporters say they fear for his life.
    The 44-year-old opposition politician is now being held in a one-person cell in the hospital of a maximum security prison and has been given no treatment beyond a glucose drip, his lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said after visiting him.
    Nurses tried repeatedly to give him another drip on Monday but were unable to find a vein, he said.
    “The ‘treatment procedures’ have ended at that.    There’s been nothing else, don’t believe a word from any of them,” Kobzev tweeted.
    The state prison service has said his condition is satisfactory and that he has agreed to receive “vitamin therapy.”    Russian state media has accused Navalny of faking his medical problems to draw attention to his cause.
    Navalny, in an Instagram post published by his lawyers, said he looked like a skeleton staggering around in his cell and that he was using a paper court document to swat mosquitoes.
    “These wretched squeaking and snapping creatures will end a man faster than any hunger strike,” he joked.
    A team of doctors that visited the prison where he is being held on Tuesday was again denied access after being kept waiting for hours, in “a clear threat to the life and health of Alexei,” they said in a Twitter post.
    Navalny’s allies plan to take to the streets on Wednesday evening in Moscow and other cities across the country.
    Authorities have said the demonstrations are illegal, setting the stage for a confrontation and the possibility of mass arrests.    Police detained thousands of people at rallies earlier this year over Navalny’s jailing.
    Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who spent 10 years in custody after falling out with the Kremlin, publicly called on Russians to join the protests in a Twitter post.
    In Moscow, where Navalny’s allies want to protest on a square by the Kremlin where Putin is set to address the two chambers of parliament earlier on Wednesday, the mayor’s office said the protest would not be authorised because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
    City authorities in Yekaterinburg in the Urals said the centre would be closed to traffic from early evening to rehearse for a military parade.
    In Volgograd, an activist at Navalny’s headquarters was handed a 25-day jail term for calling on people to take to the streets on Wednesday, his supporters said.
    Police conducted raids at Navalny’s regional offices in the cities of Krasnodar and Kurgan, according to OVD-Info, which monitors protests and activist detentions. Six Navalny activists in different regions were detained on various charges, it said.
    Navalny’s activist network faces mounting pressure. On Friday, state prosecutors in Moscow said they wanted to label his regional groups and anti-corruption foundation “extremist,” a move that would essentially outlaw their activity.
    In a statement on Tuesday, prosecutors said they wanted the groups banned and accused them of actively coordinating with unnamed foreign powers, allegations rejected as baseless by Navalny’s supporters.
    The West has demanded Navalny’s release and U.S. President Joe Biden’s White House said on Monday that the Russian government would be held to account for his fate and that he must be treated humanely.
    The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on Navalny, saying it was a matter for the state prison service or the prosecutor’s office.
    Navalny went on a hunger strike over what he said was the refusal of the prison holding him to provide him with proper treatment for leg and back pain.     Russia says he has received normal medical care, as would any other convict.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth, editing by Mark Trevelyan, Peter Graff and Paul Simao)

4/20/2021 Ukraine Says Russia Will Soon Have Over 120,000 Troops On Its Borders by Matthias Williams and Robin Emmott
Detailed view of field hospital and troop tents during Russian military deployments at Opuk training area,
near the Black Sea coast of Crimea April 15, 2021. Satellite image 2021 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Russia will soon have more than 120,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday, calling for new Western economic sanctions to deter Moscow from “further escalation.”
    Washington and NATO have been alarmed by the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    Western officials say the concentration of forces is now larger than during that annexation.    The figure given by Kuleba is higher than Ukraine’s previous estimate of 80,000 Russian troops, of which 50,000 were new deployments.
    “Russian troops continue to arrive in close proximity to our borders in the northeast, in the east and in the south.    In about a week, they are expected to reach a combined force of over 120,000 troops,” Kuleba told an online news conference.
    “This does not mean they will stop building up their forces at that number,” Kuleba said, warning of what he said was Moscow’s unpredictability although he said Ukraine did not want conflict with Russia.
    “The cost of preventing Russia’s further escalation will always be lower than the cost of stopping it and mitigating its consequences … It is way more effective to clearly make Moscow understand that a new stage of aggression will have dire consequences for Russia, international isolation and painful economic sanctions.”
    Kuleba also called for Moscow to re-commit to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed forces have fought Ukrainian troops in a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
    Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for a rise in casualties in the conflict in recent weeks.    Kuleba said Russian snipers were killing Ukrainian soldiers to provoke Ukraine to counterattack.
    Russia has said its troop build-up is a three-week snap military drill to test combat readiness in response to what it calls threatening behaviour from NATO.    Moscow on Tuesday also accused the U.S. and NATO of “provocative activity” in the waters and airspace of the Black Sea.
    Kuleba attended a video conference with EU foreign ministers and said he openly “called on colleagues to start considering a new round of sectoral sanctions against Russia.”
    He said he did not feel EU ministers were ready for such a move but he told them that individual sanctions on Russian officials were insufficient.
(Editing by Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage)

4/21/2021 Putin Warns West Of Harsh Response If It Crosses Russia’s ‘Red Lines’ by Gleb Stolyarov and Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly
in Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Wednesday not to cross Russia’s “red lines”, saying Moscow would respond swiftly and harshly to any provocations and those responsible would regret it.
    At a time of acute crisis in ties with the United States and Europe, with Russian troops massed near Ukraine and opposition leader Alexei Navalny on hunger strike in jail, the Kremlin leader used his state of the nation speech to project a message of Russian strength and defiance in the face of outside threats.
    “We want good relations…and really don’t want to burn bridges,” Putin told both houses of parliament.
    “But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn down or even blow up these bridges, they should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh.”
    Russia would determine where its red line lay in each specific case, he said, comparing those who attack it to hyenas led by a tiger.
    His comments came at the climax of a speech dominated by Russia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic hardship.    Putin announced new social support measures for families with children ahead of a September parliamentary election.
    He adopted a sterner tone when setting out foreign policy.
    “In some countries, they have developed a highly unseemly habit of picking on Russia for any reason, and most often for no reason at all – a kind of sport,” said Putin, standing alone on a vast stage flanked by white, blue and red national flags and a backdrop of a giant double-headed eagle.
    “Organisers of any provocations that threaten our core security interests will regret what they have done like they’ve never regretted anything for a long time.”
    Putin, who is 68 and has dominated Russia for two decades, made no mention of Navalny.    The opposition politician is ill in prison after starving himself for three weeks to demand access to his own doctors.
    The rouble firmed after Putin’s speech, with markets interpreting it as not escalating tensions with the West.
    Recent weeks have seen an intensification of confrontation between Russia and Western countries, which are alarmed by Navalny’s worsening condition and by what they say is the massing of tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea.
    Washington last week tightened sanctions on Russia over accusations of computer hacking and election interference, and the Czech Republic accused Moscow of a role in explosions at an arms depot in 2014. Both expelled Russian diplomats. Russia denied wrongdoing and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.
    Moscow summoned a senior U.S. diplomat on Wednesday and said 10 embassy staff it expelled last week had a month to leave and that it would be disclosing the details of other punitive measures it had promised soon.
    Tensions are also strained over the fate of Navalny, whose supporters rallied across Russia on Wednesday in his support.
    Two of Navalny’s closest allies were arrested on Wednesday, their lawyers said.    Lyubov Sobol, one of the faces of Navalny’s popular YouTube channel, and Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, were both detained in Moscow.
    One Navalny aide, Ruslan Shaveddinov, tweeted: “Right now across the whole of Russia they are detaining potential protesters.    This is repression.    This cannot be accepted.    We need to fight this darkness.”
    European Council President Charles Michel called the arrests “deplorable” and urged Russian authorities to respect people’s right to assemble.
    OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and detentions, said that nearly 300 people had been detained over the rallies in dozens of different places.    The figure was expected to climb.
    The Russian government has said the gatherings are illegal.    Previous pro-Navalny rallies have been dispersed by force, with thousands of arrests.
    Four doctors from outside Russia’s federal prison service visited Navalny on Tuesday and found his health to be satisfactory, Russian human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova said.
    In his speech, Putin urged all citizens to get vaccinated and predicted that Russia would achieve collective immunity by the autumn.
    On the eve of an online climate summit to be hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, Putin also called for tougher “polluter pays” rules and set a goal for Russia to cut its greenhouse gas emissions below those of the European Union in the next 30 years.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Gleb Stolyarov, Tatiana Voronova, Olesya Astakhova, Oksana Kobzeva, Daria Korsunskaya , Elena Fabrichnaya, Ekaterina Golubkova, Andrey Ostroukh, Anastasia Lyrchikova, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Tom Balmforth, Polina Ivanova, Anton Zverev and Anton Kolodyazhny; Writing by Mark Trevelyan/Andrew Osborn; editing by Timothy Heritage and Alistair Bell)

4/21/2021 Russia Rounds Up Almost 200 People At Protests Over Navalny’s Failing Health
Demonstrators march during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition politician
Alexei Navalny in Omsk, Russia April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Alexey Malgavko
    LADIVOSTOK/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police rounded up scores of protesters on Wednesday as allies of hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny staged nationwide protests over his failing health in jail.
    Supporters of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent fear he could die soon and are demanding he be given proper medical care.    Officials say he has been treated as any other convict would be, and have warned the rallies are illegal.
    The confrontation over Navalny’s fate has become another flashpoint in Moscow’s dire relations with the West, already aggravated by economic sanctions, diplomatic expulsions and a Russian military buildup near Ukraine.
    OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and detentions, said that 199 people had been detained over the rallies in dozens of different places.    The figure was expected to climb.
    Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and close ally Lyubov Sobol were detained near their homes in Moscow hours before a rally in the Russian capital was set to converge on a square near the Kremlin.
    In Russia’s Far East, around 200-300 people came out to support Navalny in the city of Vladivostok, some of them toting banners saying “Freedom for political prisoners” and “No war, repressions and torture!
    “Everyone realises the current authorities have nothing new to propose for the country.    We need a new generation of politicians.    I see Navalny as one of them,” said Ilya, a 19-year-old student.
    Protesters there relocated to a square by the train station as an array of police vans had been brought into the central square where they had planned to gather.
    Dozens of police vans were deployed to the centre of Moscow.    The square where activists had hoped to gather was cordoned off with metal barriers, as was Red Square, footage on TV channel Rain showed.
    Navalny’s allies said they would gather first at two other locations in central Moscow.
    European Council President Charles Michel said it was “deplorable” that Navalny’s closest allies had been taken into custody ahead of the protests.
    Another Navalny aide, Ruslan Shaveddinov, tweeted: “Right now across the whole of Russia they are detaining potential protesters.    This is repression.    This cannot be accepted.    We need to fight this darkness.”
(Reporting by Alexei Chernyshev in Vladivostok, Tom Balmforth, Anton Zverev, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/21/2021 Russia’s Foreign Ministry Summons Deputy Head Of U.S. Embassy - RIA
FILE PHOTO: U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan speaks with journalists in Moscow, Russia
January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday summoned the deputy head of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, the RIA news agency reported.
    On Tuesday, U.S. ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan said he would travel to the United States this week for consultations, four days after the Kremlin suggested that Washington recall him amid a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/21/2021 Ukraine Security Service Says It Has Detained 60 Pro-Russian Protesters
Law enforcement officers block a bus with unidentified people who, according to the State Security Service of Ukraine,
were sent by pro-Russian political forces to stage protests in the eastern city of Kharkiv, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine,
in this picture released April 21, 2021. Press service of State Security Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s state security service said on Wednesday it had detained around 60 people that pro-Russian political forces had sent to stage protests in the eastern city of Kharkiv as a way to “justify possible acts of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
    Ukraine, its Western allies and NATO have accused Russia of a provocative build-up of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea, while Russia has accused the United States and NATO of provocative activity in the Black Sea region.
    The SBU security service said those detained had been dispatched to stir up public anger in Kharkiv, one of the largest cities in Ukraine, located 300 km (186 miles) from territory seized by pro-Russian separatists in 2014.    It did not elaborate or provide evidence.
    “These groups were sent to Kharkiv by one of the pro-Russian political forces to hold protest actions in the city, as well as provoke public discontent and massive illegal actions during the regular session of the Kharkiv city council,” SBU said.
    It added that the actions were aimed at destabilising the situation in the region and “creating a picture beneficial to the Russian leadership to justify possible acts of aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.”
    Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for clashes in the Donbass region in the southeast, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict Ukraine says has killed 14,000 people since 2014, when pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

4/21/2021 Russia’s Putin, With Election Looming, Sets Out New Social Support Measures by Gleb Stolyarov and Andrey Ostroukh
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in
Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin announced new social support measures for families with children on Wednesday and hinted at more tax changes, saying the corporate sector was on course for record profits this year.
    Addressing falling living standards is one of the priorities for Putin before a parliamentary election due in September.    The economy shrank 3% last year, its sharpest contraction in 11 years, and inflation hit 5.8% last month, its highest level since 2016.
    In his annual address to both houses of parliament, Putin said he wanted to ensure an increase in real incomes to fight poverty.
    “First of all, the state must provide direct support to families with children who find themselves in a difficult situation,” Putin said.
    All elementary and secondary school students will receive a one-off payment of 10,000 roubles ($130.53), while children aged eight to 16 years from families with one parent will start getting on average 5,650 roubles a month, Putin said.
    Pregnant women with low incomes will receive on average an extra 6,350 roubles a month, he said, promising to spend 10 billion roubles on repairs of teaching colleges.
    Putin’s pledges will cost the budget around 400 billion roubles ($5.24 billion) over two years, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said.     This year, Russia will receive an extra 1.5 trillion roubles in oil and gas revenues if oil prices average $60 per barrel.    A better-than-expected economic performance and a recovery in tax collection will generate another 500 billion roubles in extra non-oil and gas revenues this year that could be used for fresh spending, a deputy finance minister told Reuters.
    Putin said this year would see record corporate-sector profits.
    “Let’s see how these profits are spent, and with this in mind we will take some decisions on the possible fine-tuning of tax legislation at the end of the year,” Putin said.
    Russia has recently raised taxes for individuals with annual incomes over $65,265, applied taxes on bank deposits and targeted the mining, tobacco and oil industries.
($1 = 76.6100 roubles)
(Additional reporting by Oksana Kobzeva, Writing by Andrey Ostroukh, Editing by Katya Golubkova and Timothy Heritage)

4/21/2021 Putin Calls For Russian Greenhouse Gas Emissions To Be Lower Than EU’s by Olesya Astakhova and Gleb Stolyarov
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he delivers his annual address to the
Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he wanted Russia’s total net greenhouse gas emissions to be less than the European Union’s over the next 30 years, a goal he described as tough but achievable.
    Russia is the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter.    Putin is set to deliver a speech at an online climate change summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday.
    “Over the next 30 years, accumulated net greenhouse gas emissions in Russia must be lower than in the European Union,” Putin told top officials and lawmakers at his annual state-of-the-nation speech.
    “This is a difficult task, given the size of our country, its geography, climate and economic structure.    However, I am absolutely certain that this goal, given our scientific and technological potential, is achievable.”
    Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions are around half of the total of the 27 EU countries, which combined have more than three times the population.
    The EU has announced aggressive targets to reduce its emissions over the next three decades, aiming to achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2050.    Russia’s targets so far have been more modest.
    Russia’s economy is heavily reliant on exports of oil, gas and mineral resources, and the push to combat climate change poses serious challenges for the Kremlin.
    “Construction of green infrastructure by using oil and gas revenues could better prepare Russia for the energy transition.    However, the green projects are still perceived in Russia with big scepticism,” said Dmitry Marinchenko, a senior director at Fitch.
    He added that Russia is still aiming to make use of its vast oil reserves over the next decade by launching massive projects, such as Vostok Oil, designed by the oil giant Rosneft.
    Putin has said Russia is warming at 2.5 times the world average and that it would be a disaster if the permafrost melts in its northern cities.
    The Russian leader, who has questioned whether human activity is the sole driver of warming climate cycles, has lately cast himself as a defender of the environment.
    Russia joined the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight climate change in September 2019.    Putin ordered the government last November to work towards an emissions cut by 2030 of up to 30% below 1990 emissions levels.    The EU is aiming for a 40% cut by 2030, on its path to carbon neutrality by 2050.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Olesya Astakhova, Vladimir Soldatkin, Andrew Osborn, Tatiana Voronova; writing by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/21/2021 Russia’s Putin Warns Biden Against ‘Crossing Red Line’ by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at the Federal Assembly at the
Manezh Exhibition Hall in Moscow on April 21, 2021. (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stern warning to the Biden administration over its recent threats against Russia.
    In his annual state of the nation address Wednesday, Putin said: Any country that crosses the “red line” of Russia’s security or territorial integrity will “regret its actions.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at The Federal Assembly
at The Manezh Exhibition Hall in Moscow on April 21, 2021. (Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)
    Putin added, Russia wants to have good relations with all countries in the world, but it won’t cave to intimidation.
    This came after Biden declared a national emergency over recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine in addition to proposed bilateral talks with Moscow.
    Putin said threats against Russia will not work.
    “If someone interprets our good intentions as indifference or weakness and is willing to cross a ‘red line’ they should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetric, fast and tough,” Putin stated.    “I hope that no one will think of crossing a ‘red line’ with Russia.”

4/22/2021 Russia Orders Troops Back To Base After Buildup Near Ukraine by Tom Balmforth and Matthias Williams
Service members of the Russian airborne forces line up before boarding Ilyushin Il-76 transport planes during drills at a
military aerodrome in the Azov Sea port of Taganrog, Russia April 22, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) -Russia announced on Thursday it was ordering troops back to base from the area near the border with Ukraine, apparently calling an end to a buildup of tens of thousands of soldiers that had alarmed the West.
    The currencies of both Russia and Ukraine rose sharply after the announcement, signalling relief among investors just hours after Russia also ended war games in Crimea, the peninsula it occupied and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    A confirmed pullout of the troops brought in on top of the permanent contingent will likely be welcomed by Western countries that had been expressing alarm at the prospect of further Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine.    Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian government in the region since 2014.
    The Ukrainian president’s spokeswoman said this month that Russia had more than 40,000 troops deployed on Ukraine’s eastern border and over 40,000 in Crimea.    Around 50,000 of them were new deployments, she said.    Moscow has not provided any troop numbers.
    In a tweet, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine “welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas (eastern Ukraine),” adding “Grateful to international partners for their support.”
    Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had told Reuters Kyiv did not know whether Moscow intended to launch an attack or not, and said the West must make clear it would stand with Ukraine if Russia did so.
    “So it can go in either direction now,” Kuleba said.    “And this is why the reaction of the West, the consolidated reaction of the West, is so important now, to prevent Putin … from making that decision.”
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was aware of Russia’s announcement and was watching the situation on the border closely.    “We’ve heard words.    I think what we’ll be looking for is action,” Price said.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said he had ordered troops involved in exercises to return to their bases by May 1, as they had completed what he called an “inspection” in the border area.
    “I believe the objectives of the snap inspection have been fully achieved.    The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defence for the country,” Shoigu said.
    Military hardware was to be left at a training ground near the city of Voronezh, about six hours’ drive from Ukraine, so that it could be used again later this year in another big scheduled exercise.
    Hours earlier, Shoigu had attended manoeuvres in Crimea, which Moscow said involved 10,000 troops and more than 40 warships.    Russia also announced it had arrested a Ukrainian man in Crimea as a spy.
    The troop buildup near Ukraine was one of several issues that have raised tensions between Russia and the West.
    Last week, the United States tightened sanctions on Russia over accusations that it had hacked computers and meddled in U.S. elections, and the Czech Republic accused Moscow of a role in deadly explosions at an arms dump in 2014.
    Both countries expelled Russian diplomats, prompting angry denials and tit-for-tat expulsions by Moscow.
    Western countries have also urged Russia to free jailed hunger-striking opposition figure Alexei Navalny, with Washington warning of “consequences” should he die in prison. Russia says the West should not interfere.
    In a major speech on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin sounded a defiant note, warning Western countries not to cross unspecified “red lines.”    But Putin is also participating this week in a climate summit organised by U.S. President Joe Biden.
    In Moscow, the Kremlin said Putin was aware of an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet to discuss the crisis.
    “If the president considers it necessary, he will reply himself.    I have nothing to say on that now,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh, Maxim Rodionov and Dmitry Antonov; and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Heavens)

4/22/2021 Russia Orders Soldiers To Begin Return To Bases After Drills Near Ukraine
Service members of the Russian airborne forces board an Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane during drills
at a military aerodrome in the Azov Sea port of Taganrog, Russia April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia ordered its top army command to begin returning troops to their permanent bases inside the country from Friday, saying it had successfully completed a “snap inspection” of forces in its south and west, near the border with Ukraine, the RIA news agency reported.
    The announcement prompted the rouble to rise sharply, following weeks of tensions with the West over a major Russian military buildup near Ukraine.
    It was unclear if the rebasing order covered all of the forces involved in that buildup.    The EU’s top diplomat said on Monday that Russia has massed some 100,000 troops near the border.
    “I believe the objectives of the snap inspection have been fully achieved.    The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defence for the country,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying.
    “In this regard, I have decided to complete the inspections in the southern and western military districts,” he said.
    He said they would return to their bases by May 1.
    Shoigu, after overseeing exercises in annexed Crimea near Ukraine’s southern border on Thursday, said however that the military had to be ready to respond quickly in case of an “unfavourable” development in the situation near NATO’s Defender Europe exercises, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Defender-Europe is an annual, U.S. Army-led, multinational joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between U.S. and other NATO militaries, as well as other partners.
    From March to June, more than 28,000 forces from 26 nations will conduct drills across more than 30 training areas in a dozen countries.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

4/22/2021 Opposition Fears Sellout As Belarus Leader Holds Talks With Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko
in Moscow, Russia April 22, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday for talks in which opponents fear he could trade off chunks of national sovereignty in return for Russian support.
    Lukashenko said at the weekend an alleged coup plot against him had been thwarted and stoked speculation about the significance of the talks by saying he was about to take one of the most fundamental decisions of his nearly 27-year rule.
    The comment prompted opposition fears that he might agree to let Russia establish a military base in Belarus, or to abandon the national currency in favour of the rouble.
    “We need to understand that the sovereignty of Belarus is today under threat,” opposition politician Pavel Latushko said.
    Kremlin backing helped Lukashenko weather the biggest challenge to his nearly 27-year rule when Belarus was rocked by months of mass protests after a presidential election last August that the opposition said was rigged in his favour.
    The rallies subsided after a harsh crackdown and thousands of arrest.    Some opposition leaders were jailed, others went into exile abroad.
    Russia’s FSB security service said on Saturday it had detained two Belarusian citizens in Russia for what it said was an attempted coup and assassination attempt against Lukashenko.
    Belarus has charged four people there with conspiracy to seize power in the country.
    Lukashenko has said the plotters intended to murder him, kidnap members of his family and shut down the country’s electricity system, and has pointed the finger at U.S. intelligence, without providing evidence.
    Putin highlighted the alleged plot in a speech on Wednesday, describing it as evidence that the West was undermining stability in Russia and its former Soviet neighbours.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/22/2021 Germany Rejects Idea Of Redrawing Western Balkans Borders – Minister
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wears a protective mask during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken in Brussels, Belgium April 14, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany rejects a redrawing of borders in the Western Balkans along ethnic lines and the idea has been “put back into a drawer,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday.
    The idea was raised in an unofficial European Union diplomatic note that alarmed Bosnians, who saw it as a threat to their country’s territorial unity, two decades after ethnic conflicts led to war in the region.
    The note, seen by Reuters, suggested that creating a Greater Serbia, a Greater Albania and a Greater Croatia could help resolve national tensions holding up EU integration in the region.
    A diplomat in Brussels said EU member states had not discussed the idea.
    “The idea that things can be solved with new lines on a map is not only unrealistic, but it is dangerous to even initiate this discussion,” Maas told reporters in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
    “The idea of a shifting of borders is one that the German government vehemently rejects,” he said, adding that he was happy that the idea had been “put back into a drawer or hopefully the shredder of history
    The EU diplomatic note was first leaked to Slovenian media.    Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa denied media reports that he had sent it to European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits, as a proposal on how to deal with the region after Slovenia takes over the EU presidency in July.
    Ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia worsened after the death of long-time leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, culminating in the Yugoslav federation’s collapse in 1992 and the Balkan wars of the 1990s.    Some 100,000 people were killed in Bosnia, where Serbs and Croats sought to form their own ethnic statelets.
    Two former Yugoslav republics, Croatia and Slovenia, have joined the EU. Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo – formerly part of Serbia – also hope to accede. Albania is also seeking membership.
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Joseph Nasr, editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/22/2021 Navalny Ally Urges Jailed Kremlin Critic To End His Hunger Strike by Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision to
change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -A medical trade union leader and ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Thursday she and her group were asking the jailed opposition politician to call off his hunger strike.
    “To continue (the strike) would be dangerous for his life and health,” Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Doctors Alliance union, told Reuters.    “We very much hope Alexei will end the hunger strike tomorrow.”
    Russia’s leading opposition politician began a hunger strike on March 31 to demand proper medical care for leg and back pain that he said he was being denied to him in prison.
    Having survived a nerve agent poisoning last year that Russia denies carrying out, Navalny is serving a 2-1/2 year sentence in a case that he and his supporters say is politically motivated.
    Russia says he has been treated well and is exaggerating to gain attention.    President Vladimir Putin makes a point of never speaking Navalny’s name, and the Kremlin says the case is a matter for the prison service.
    Police detained more than 1,900 Russians on Wednesday as his supporters took to the streets in dozens of cities to show backing for the 44-year-old opposition politician, according to the OVD-Info protest monitoring group.
    Vasilyeva also said that authorities had taken Navalny to a civilian hospital on Tuesday, a day before the protest, and that he had been seen by the head kidney specialist, neurologist and neurosurgeon there.
    Navalny’s team had not until now said he had been seen by doctors outside of the prison where he is being held in Vladimir region, east of Moscow.
    Leonid Volkov, a close Navalny ally who is outside the country, said they had received the results of his medical checkup on Thursday, something he cast as a victory for their protest action.
    Vasilyeva called into question the course of medical treatment that was prescribed for him and said the team of doctors would publish their full medical report on Friday.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

4/22/2021 Czechs Order Russia To Pull Out Most Embassy Staff In Worsening Spy Row by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Robert Muller
Ambassador of the Czech Republic Vitezslav Pivonka leaves after visiting the Russian Foreign
Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Russia April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW/PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech Republic on Thursday ordered Russia to remove most of its remaining diplomatic staff from Prague in an escalation of the worst dispute between the two countries in decades.
    The spy row flared on Saturday when Prague expelled 18 Russian staff, whom it identified as intelligence officers.
    It said two Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were also behind an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed two people.
    Russia has denied the Czech accusations and on Sunday ordered out 20 Czech staff in retaliation.
    Thursday’s decision, announced by Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek, requires Russia to have the same number of envoys as the Czech Republic has in Moscow.    That means Russia will have to withdraw 63 diplomats and other staff from Prague, although Prague gave it until the end of May to do so.
    Together with the initial step, this will greatly reduce what has been by far the biggest foreign mission to Prague and much larger than the Czech representation in Moscow.
    “We will put a ceiling on the number of diplomats at the Russian embassy in Prague at the current level of our embassy in Moscow,” Kulhanek said.
    “I do not want to needlessly escalate…but the Czech Republic is a self-confident country and will act as such.    This is not aimed against Russians or the Russian nation, but a reaction to activities of Russian secret services on our territory.”
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry in reaction demanded a reduction in the embassy’s staffing level, alluding to disparity in numbers of local employees.
    “The (Czech) ambassador was told that we reserve the right to take other steps in the event the hysterical anti-Russian campaign spirals further,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
    At a time of acute tension in Russia’s relations with the West, the dispute has prompted NATO and the European Union to throw their support behind the Czech Republic, which is a member of both blocs.
    “Allies express deep concern over the destabilising actions Russia continues to carry out across the Euro-Atlantic area, including on alliance territory, and stand in full solidarity with the Czech Republic,” NATO’s 30 allies said in a statement.
    Slovakia expelled three Russian envoys on Thursday in solidarity with the Czech Republic.    The Russian response to that step was not immediately clear.
    In the last week, Moscow has also kicked out diplomats from Bulgaria, Poland and the United States in retaliation for expulsions of its own staff.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow took a negative view of Prague’s “hysteria
    President Vladimir Putin warned foreign powers in his state of the nation speech on Wednesday not to cross Russia’s “red lines,” saying Moscow would make them regret it.
    The Czechs say the loss of the 20 staff has effectively paralysed the functioning of their Moscow embassy.
    The Russian embassy’s size in Prague is an overhang from the pre-1989 communist era, and had been about double the U.S. Embassy until this week.
    Kulhanek said on Czech Television that Russia told the Czech envoy on Thursday there now would be “strict parity.”
    He said that meant each country would have 7 diplomats and 25 others at respective embassies, which is the current level of Czech staff in Moscow.
    He said the Czech side was considering how to proceed further after the Russian demand to cut the number of local employees.
    The ministry said on Wednesday Russia had 27 diplomats and 67 other staff in Prague after the previous expulsions.
    The Czech counterintelligence service has repeatedly said that the mission served as a base for intelligence work and its size made it difficult to reduce these activities.
    The two suspects named by Prague in connection with the 2014 ammunition depot explosion, known under the aliases Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, are reportedly part of the elite Unit 29155 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
    Britain charged them in absentia with attempted murder after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with the nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018.
    The Skripals survived, but a member of the public died.    The Kremlin denied involvement in the incident.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Tom Balmforth, Dmitry Antonov, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Robert Muller, Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka in Prague; additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Jan Lopatka; editing by Mark Trevelyan, Angus MacSwan and Barbara Lewis)

4/22/2021 Czechs Order Russia To Sharply Cut Embassy Staffing
Newly appointed Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek speaks during a news conference after meeting
with Russian ambassador in Prague, Czech Republic, April 21, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic has ordered Russia to sharply reduce the number of its diplomats at the Russian embassy in Prague to match the number of Czech staff in Moscow, Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said on Thursday.
    Russia will have until the end of May to comply with the request, he told reporters.
(Reporting by Robert Muller, writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Gareth Jones)

4/23/2021 Russia Withdraws Troops From Ukraine Border As Biden Caves by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as he attends the virtual Leaders Summit on
Climate in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russia is reportedly withdrawing troops from the Ukraine border after successfully strong-arming Joe Biden into direct talks.    On Thursday, the Russian     Defense Ministry said its military drills in the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas region have concluded. Officials confirmed all excess troops are leaving those areas.
    This came after Vladimir Putin and Biden took part in so-called climate talks with Biden also promising to have a separate summit with the Russian president later this year.    Critics have said Biden has validated Putin’s actions in Ukraine by agreeing to talks.
    Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Putin to open direct negotiations to end the war.
    “A proposal was made to meet at the demarcation line in order to see and understand the situation as accurately as possible,” Zelensky explained.    “What should I understand?    I go there every month.    Mr. Putin!    I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet anywhere in the Ukrainian Donbas.”
    The 45th president had refused to talk to Putin about Ukraine.    Instead, President Trump said the Kremlin must settle its conflict with Ukrainian authorities instead.    HE also gave military aid to Ukraine while Biden used extortion of Ukrainian authorities for personal gain.

4/28/2021 Russian Foreign Minister Says Biden Admin. Has ‘Schizophrenic Undertones’ by OAN Newsroom
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is pictured. (AP Photo)
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently criticized the Biden administration while pointing out their words contradict their actions.
    While speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, Lavrov highlighted Joe Biden’s calls for de-escalation and better relations with Russia.    However, the diplomat said the White House’s actions have been rather confrontational over the past few weeks.
    His remarks came after Biden caved to the Kremlin’s pressure and proposed a summit with President Vladimir Putin, which is expected to take place this summer.    Lavrov said Biden’s officials are incoherent to the point where they don’t make sense.
    “I think there are even some schizophrenic undertones in the statements of some figures in Washington,” stated the Russian foreign minister.    “White House spokesperson recently said that the sanctions on Russia will continue, that the sanctions are having roughly the effect that Washington hoped for…the aim is to reduce tensions between the U.S. and Russia.”
    Lavrov added, such policies are not helpful and come in violation of the United Nations Charter.

4/30/2021 Russia Investigates Top Rights Lawyer Defending Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Group by Maria Tsvetkova
FILE PHOTO: Ivan Pavlov, lawyer of a former journalist and an aide to the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos Ivan Safronov, speaks with
journalists following a court hearing in Moscow, Russia September 2, 2020, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia has opened a criminal investigation against one of the country’s top human rights lawyers who is defending jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in an extremism case.
    Security forces searched and briefly detained Ivan Pavlov on Friday before bringing him in for questioning again.
    Pavlov, 50, is well known inside Russia for taking on high-profile and often politically sensitive cases in which he represents people accused by the Russian state of everything from treason to espionage.
    The investigation into him follows mounting official pressure on the FBK, a Navalny-linked organisation that has produced a slew of high profile and sometimes embarrassing investigations into official corruption. Some of the targets of its exposes have sued it and disputed its findings.
    It comes at a time when Navalny’s movement and network of political campaign offices across Russia is under unprecedented pressure designed to end its activities.
    In another setback for Navalny’s team, Russia’s financial monitoring agency said on Friday it had added his network of campaign offices to a list of organisations involved in “terrorism and extremism.”
    “I was interrogated as a suspect,” Pavlov told reporters outside a hotel in Moscow.    He walked out unguarded and headed to another interrogation with Russia’s Investigative Committee.
    Pavlov said he had been accused of disclosing classified information relating to an ongoing investigation against one of his clients, former journalist Ivan Safronov.
    The Investigative Committee declined to comment.
    A court later prohibited him from using the internet or a phone.
    Pavlov was due to lead a legal team representing the FBK in a court hearing considering a request from the Moscow prosecutor to declare the group an extremist organisation.    The main hearing is scheduled for May 17.
    The offence Pavlov is accused of is punishable by up to three months in jail, Pavlov’s legal team said.
    “Of course, this is an element of pressure because if he’s found guilty of committing a deliberate crime he would be deprived of his lawyer status and therefore would not be able to continue his professional activity,” said Dmitry Katchev, one of Safronov’s lawyers.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We don’t have any information, we don’t know the reason for the arrest and how it happened, what this lawyer is accused of.”
    Russian security forces also raided Pavlov’s wife home and the office of his legal team in St Petersburg, his colleagues said on social media.
(Aadditional reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Tom Balmforth, John Stonestreet, Timothy Heritage and Richard Chang)

5/3/2021 Russian Military In Armenia Reinforce Areas Near Azeri Border
FILE PHOTO: Armenia's acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a meeting with Russia's Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin before
a session of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) Council in Kazan, Russia April 29, 2021. Sputnik/Alexander Astafyev/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia’s military occupied two new sites in the south of Armenia near the Azeri border as an “additional security guarantee” following last year’s conflict, Russian news agencies reported, citing Armenia’s acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan.
    The move gives Moscow a bigger footprint in a region where it sent extra troops last year to keep the peace, under an agreement that ended a six-week war in which Azeri forces made far-reaching territorial gains against ethnic Armenians.
    Russia is an ally of Armenia, an impoverished former Soviet republic of less than 3 million people. Moscow already has a military base in the northwest of Armenia, and sent 2,000 troops as peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians, under the accord that ended last year’s fighting in the area.
    “Two strongholds of the 102nd Russian military base were established in the Syunik region,” the Interfax news agency cited Pashinyan as saying in an address to the Armenian parliament, referring to Russia’ existing base in Armenia.
    “This is an additional security guarantee not only for the Syunik region but for Armenia,” Pashinyan was quoted as saying.
    Syunik is a strategic strip of Armenia located between Azerbaijan, the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan, and Iran.    The Armenian defence minister said in February that Yerevan wanted Russia to expand its presence and deploy troops closer to Azerbaijan.
    Pashinyan has remained in office in an acting capacity after resigning as prime minister last month in a dispute with the army over blame for the outcome of last year’s war, seen as a humiliating defeat. A new election is set for June 20.
    He announced his resignation a day after U.S. President Joe Biden declared Armenians the victims of genocide by Turkey in World War One, recognition Armenians had sought for decades.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Graff)

5/5/2021 Ten Belarusians File Criminal Case Against Lukashenko In Germany
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a session of the Council of the Collective Security
Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan November 28, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) -Ten Belarusians have asked Germany’s federal prosecutor to open a criminal investigation against President Alexander Lukashenko and security officers for alleged crimes against humanity during a crackdown on protests.
    Lawyers who brought the case for the 10, who are now living across Europe, cited universal jurisdiction laws that allow Germany to try crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
    “All clients have reported of spurious arrests, torture and abuse during the days of their imprisonment… Each of our clients has suffered severe health consequences,” the lawyers said.
    Minsk did not immediately comment.    The Belarusian authorities have characterised the protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of law enforcement agencies as adequate and necessary.
    Lukashenko has faced street protests since a presidential election last August that the opposition says was rigged to enable him to win.    Police have arrested thousands of protesters.
    Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws were used in February to secure a guilty verdict against a former member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security services for abetting the torture of civilians.
    The lawyers said in the new filing that the 10 Belarusians wanted an independent investigation and prosecution of those found guilty.
    “The Syrian precedent showed that ‘if the will of the law enforcement agencies is there, they can do it’,” said Onur Ozata, one of the lawyers.
    Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in self-imposed exile in Lithuania, welcomed the legal filing.
    “There will never be impunity in Belarus, and today’s news is a clear example of this,” she said in a statement.
    In March, the United Nations’ top human rights body agreed to set up a team of investigators to gather evidence about the alleged excessive use of force and torture by authorities in Belarus.
    Yury Ambrazevich, the Belarusian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, described the U.N. move as “yet another attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of our state.”
(Additonal reporting by Kyiv newsroom, Writing by Paul Carrel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

5/5/2021 Bulgaria’s President To Call July Election And Appoint Technocrat Interim Government by Tsvetelia Tsolova
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev makes a statement announcing a parliamentary
snap election, in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) -Bulgaria’s president said on Wednesday he will call a snap parliamentary election for July and name a technocrat interim Cabinet next week, after politicians failed in a third attempt to form a government a month after an inconclusive vote.
    Prime Minister Boyko Borissov failed to form a new coalition after widespread anger at corruption in Europe’s poorest country hit support for his centre-right GERB party in the April 4 election, though it remained the biggest group in parliament.
    After Borissov failed, so did attempts by a new anti-elite party led by TV host Slavi Trifonov, and by the third largest party, the Socialists, who abandoned their effort on Wednesday.
    “Bulgaria needs a strong-willed political alternative, which the current parliament failed to produce,” Radev said in a live broadcast.    “Next week I will dissolve the parliament and appoint an interim government.    In this situation, the election is expected to be held on July 11.”
    Radev said he planned to appoint experts to the caretaker Cabinet, but did not reveal his choice to be prime minister.    Sources familiar with the situation told Reuters discussions were still ongoing, with two main candidates for interim premier being considered, neither of whom the sources would identify.
    The Cabinet is expected to include members of the Socialist Party, which has already said it would back Radev in his own re-election bid in a presidential vote due in the autumn.
    Two sources familiar with the situation said Denitsa Zlateva, a Socialist who served as a deputy premier in charge of Bulgaria’s preparations for the country’s 2018 EU presidency, was being considered for the post of foreign minister as Radev seeks to affirm Bulgaria’s commitment to Brussels.
    Prolonged political uncertainty is unlikely to undermine Bulgaria’s prudent fiscal policies and its commitment to adopting the euro currency, due to a broad political consensus in Sofia on these issues, ratings agency Fitch said on Tuesday.
    Fitch, which rates Bulgaria at investment BBB grade with a positive outlook, said that a protracted political deadlock could delay reforms needed for the efficient tapping of the EU’s 750 billion euro coronavirus Recovery Fund.
    The caretaker government will face a challenging agenda of managing a health and economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic within a tight budget it cannot amend, and of ensuring a fair election.
    A recent opinion poll showed GERB remains the most popular party, but its key rival, Trifonov’s There Is Such a People, is a close second, raising the prospect of continued fragmentation in which politicians will struggle to form a stable coalition.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia TsolovaEditing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

5/7/2021 U.S. President Biden Says He Is Confident He Can Meet Russia’s Putin Soon by Steve Holland
U.S. President Joe Biden tours the Carrollton Water Plant in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., May 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday he expected to be able to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin soon and the White House said ongoing differences between the United States and Russia would not need to be resolved in advance of a summit.
    Biden told reporters at the White House he wanted to meet Putin despite Russia’s build-up of military forces near Ukraine.
    “It does not impact my desire to have a one-on-one meeting and you’ll notice he had more troops before.    He’s withdrawn troops,” he said.
    Asked about meeting Putin in June, he said: “I’m confident we’ll be able to do it.    We don’t have any specific time or place.    That’s being worked on.”
    The United States has said it supports Ukraine amid what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week called Moscow’s “reckless” troop build-up.
    Biden and his advisers would like to add a summit with Putin in a third country while the U.S. president is in Europe in mid-June for a Group of Seven meeting in Britain and talks with NATO allies in Brussels.
    But negotiations with the Russians on staging the summit are continuing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
    “We’re working through the question of some logistics – place, location, time, agenda, all the specifics – that was always going to happen at a staff level.    It’s really up to them what they want to achieve,” she said.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited by Russian news agency TASS as saying Russia was studying the possibility of a Putin-Biden meeting.
    “We continue to analyze the situation,” TASS quoted Peskov as saying when asked whether the Russian side has officially agreed to the proposed summit.
    The United States has a number of grievances with Russia, including its treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.    But Psaki said these grievances do not need to be resolved in advance of a Biden-Putin summit.
    “Obviously, human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, values are all issues the president, Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken, National Security Adviser (Jake) Sullivan raised with their counterparts.    But the invitation to have a discussion and have a meeting was not offered with the prerequisite that every issue is resolved in advance.    We expect we will still continue to have disagreements,” she said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Edmund Blair, William Maclean)

5/7/2021 Cuba Protests Diplomat’s Expulsion From Colombia Amid Protests
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator takes part in a protest demanding government action to tackle poverty, police violence and
inequalities in the health and education systems, in Bogota, Colombia May 6, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Communist-run Cuba called in Colombia’s ambassador on Friday to protest the expulsion of one of its diplomats from the Andean country amid a wave of violent protests against its right-wing government.
    Colombia’s foreign ministry had on Thursday accused Omar Rafael García Lazo, the first secretary of Cuba’s embassy in Bogota, of breaching the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, without adding further details.
    Cuba has faced charges of fomenting anti-government protests in recent years by conservative governments in Ecuador and Bolivia allied with the former U.S. Trump administration which vowed to end socialism in Latin America.
    “The unjustified action aims to deviate the attention of the international community and Colombian society away from the violent repression of demonstrations by the military and police forces that has killed dozens and injured hundreds,” the Cuban foreign ministry said on Twitter.
    Cuban state media have given ample coverage to the protests in Colombia that began last week in opposition to a now-cancelled tax reform plan which would have raised sales taxes.
    Demonstrators have since broadened their demands to include government action to tackle poverty, police violence and inequality in the health and education systems.
    Cuban commentators have in particular criticized the government for failing to curb police violence.
    Advocacy group Human Rights Watch has reports of 36 deaths and called police violence “alarming.”
    The protests come as the one-party Cuban state is dealing with a small but unusual wave of dissent at home, with members and allies of a dissident artists collective in Havana protesting against restrictions on civil liberties, economic crisis and growing inequality.
    Government critics say it should address human rights issues at home.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, Editing by William Maclean)

5/7/2021 Poland, Hungary Block “Gender Equality” From EU Social Summit by Gabriela Baczynska
European Parliament President David Sassoli speaks with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven during a panel discussion at an
EU summit at the Alfandega do Porto Congress Center in Porto, Portugal May 7, 2021. Luis Vieira/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Lobbying by Poland and Hungary has led to the removal of the phrase “gender equality” from a Friday declaration on advancing social cohesion in the European Union as it strives to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Poland’s nationalist ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and eurosceptic ally Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban promote what they call traditional social values at home and have repeatedly clashed with their more liberal Western peers over the rights of women, gay people and migrants.
    The two countries opposed mentioning “gender equality” directly in a statement by the bloc’s 27 national leaders, who are meeting in the Portuguese city of Porto on Friday and Saturday to look for ways to reduce social and economic inequalities that widened during the pandemic.
    While an earlier draft said the bloc would “promote gender equality,” the later version seen by Reuters avoids the phrase and reads: “We will step up efforts to fight discrimination and work actively to close gender gaps … and to promote equality.”
    European Union diplomats said Warsaw and Budapest had sought the looser language.    Both governments support Catholic, conservative social values in contentious stances that have gone hand-in-hand with increasing state control and political influence over media, courts and academics.
    The European Commission’s gender equality strategy for 2020-2025 spells out its goal as a “Union where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are free to pursue their chosen path in life, have equal opportunities to thrive, and can equally participate in and lead our European society.”
    Arriving in Porto, Orban told reporters: “The fact is that men and women should be treated equally.”    He said he was against speaking of “gender," which he considered an “ideologically motivated expression
    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also spoke only of the need to “eliminate the gap between men and women” in the workplace, rather than of wider social equality for groups with various sexual orientation.
    In Poland, some areas have proclaimed themselves “LGBT-free zones” and received government support after losing EU funding over such discrimination.
    ILGA Europe, an advocacy group for LGBTI rights, said erasing the language meant erasing gender equality as a principle.
    “Attacking the term gender is a strategy widely applied by anti-human rights actors to undermine advancements of women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights,” it said.
    Despite the rumpus over language, the leaders will nonetheless commit to an inclusive recovery from the bloc’s record recession triggered by the pandemic, which has killed nearly 700,000 people in Europe, shut businesses and travel, and confined millions to their homes.
    Women, young people, gig economy workers and victims of domestic violence are among groups that have been particularly adversely affected as pre-existing inequalities deepened.
    “The priority will be to move from protecting to creating jobs and to improve job quality,” the leaders’ statement says, and welcomes a proposal to look beyond GDP readings to measure economic and social progress.
    Twenty-four leaders are attending in person, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and two others dialling in for discussions that also cover divisions on waiving patents for COVID-19 vaccines, and the EU’s fraught ties with Russia.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by John Stonestreet, Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

5/7/2021 Amnesty International Apologizes To Russia’s Navalny, Restores ‘Prisoner Of Conscience’ Status by David Ljunggren
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision
to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    OTTAWA (Reuters) -Amnesty International on Friday apologized to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for stripping him of its “prisoner of conscience” status and said it would restore the designation.
    Amnesty announced on Feb. 24 that it would stop referring to Navalny as a prisoner of conscience on the grounds that in the past he had made comments that qualified as advocacy of hatred.
    “Following careful evaluation Amnesty International has decided to re-designate Alexei Navalny as a ‘Prisoner of Conscience,'” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
    Amnesty said the Russian government and its supporters had used the Feb. 24 decision to further violate the rights of Navalny, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin.
    The 44-year-old Russian opposition politician was arrested in January and sentenced to jail for parole violations he called trumped up.
    “Amnesty International made a wrong decision … and apologizes for the negative impacts this has had on Alexei Navalny personally, and the activists in Russia and around the world who tirelessly campaign for his freedom,” it said.    Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, said on Twitter that “the ability to recognize mistakes and move on is the most important thing that distinguishes normal people from Putins.”
    The Russian government was closed for a national holiday.
    Navalny has been criticized for past nationalist statements against illegal immigration and for attending an annual nationalist march several years ago.
    Amnesty said it had reviewed its process for naming people as prisoners of conscience and would no longer remove the designation solely based on their past conduct.
    “Some of Navalny’s previous statements are reprehensible and we do not condone them in the slightest … by confirming Navalny’s status as (a) prisoner of conscience, we are not endorsing his political program, but are highlighting the urgent need for his rights,” it said.
(Additional reporting by Anton Zverev in Moscow;Editing by Howard Goller)

5/10/2021 Denmark Draws China Ire For Inviting Taiwan Leader To Speak At ‘Democracy Summit’ by Nikolaj Skydsgaard
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen and others pose for photos in front of the newly launched
coast guard flagship Chiayi in Kaohsiung, Taiwan April 29, 2021. REUTERS/Yimou Lee
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s foreign minister defended democratic values alongside Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, drawing criticism from China which considers fiercely democratic, self-ruled Taiwan its “sacred” territory.
    China has never renounced the use of force to ensure eventual unification with Taiwan, an island it views as a breakaway province.    Denmark and all but a handful of countries recognise Beijing over Taipei as part of Beijing’s “one China” policy.
    In recent months, China has also stepped up military activities near Taiwan.
    Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, who said he was preparing a new “value-based” foreign policy and security strategy, denounced as “deplorable” recent sanctions imposed by China against the EU.
    “We need to stand firmer, respond faster and stronger, when universal values like human rights and freedom of speech are under pressure,” Kofod said at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit.
    The European Union had imposed sanctions on Chinese officials suspected of human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs in farwestern Xinjiang, a charge Beijing denies.
    Danish-Chinese relations have improved significantly since 2009, when former state head Lars Lokke Rasmussen met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, but the Danish government recently drew criticism from parliament for being too passive about Chinese interference in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
    China brands the Dalai Lama a dangerous “splittist,” or separatist, and denies Western charges of trying to erase freedoms in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    “We walked a long road to realize the freedoms we enjoy today and we are determined never to surrender these freedoms,” Tsai said during her video speech.
    The Chinese embassy in Denmark criticized the event on Monday, saying “anti-China” activities by foreign forces and separatists to promote independence for Taiwan and Hong Kong were “bound to fail.”
    Inviting Tsai and Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law to the summit violated “the one-China principle and interferes in China’s internal affairs,” the embassy said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
    Among those hit by China’ sanctions was the organiser of the summit, the non-profit Alliance for Democracies Foundation, which was founded by ex-NATO Secretary General and former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
    Other speakers at the event included Belarussian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/10/2021 Romanian President Says More NATO Presence Needed In Eastern Europe
FILE PHOTO: Romania's President Klaus Iohannis arrives to attend a face-to-face EU summit amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Eastern European NATO states would like a bigger presence of allied military forces on the bloc’s eastern flank, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Monday after a virtual summit of those states that was also joined by U.S. President Joe Biden.
    “NATO must continue to strengthen its defence and deterrence posture especially on the Eastern flank, from … the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea,” Iohannis said after the summit.
    “This is why I have argued, including in discussions with President Biden, for an increase of allied military presence in Romania and … the south of the Eastern flank.”
    The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO was jointly hosted by Iohannis and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/10/2021 Georgian Opposition Leader Walks Free After Court Ruling
FILE PHOTO: Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, who is accused of inciting violence
at street protests in June 2019, attends a court hearing in Tbilisi, Georgia April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) -Jailed Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia walked free on Monday after a court ordered his release on bail, seen as a major step in an EU-backed plan to help end a political crisis.
    Speaking to supporters and journalists gathered outside the court in the capital Tbilisi, Melia said he would consult with his party about his next political steps, after domestic media reported that the court had ordered his release from pre-trial detention.
    Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic with ambitions to join NATO and other Western organisations, has faced political turmoil since a parliamentary election last November, which the ruling Georgian Dream party won but the opposition called unfair.
    Police stormed the offices of Melia’s United National Movement (UNM) opposition party in February to detain him over accusations that he fomented violence during anti-government protests in 2019, charges he says are politically motivated.
    His arrest prompted then-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, in office for just five months, to resign, warning that Melia’s detention could worsen political rifts.
    Speaking outside the courtroom Melia said he would consult with the UNM and other political leaders about his next steps.
    “It will take some time, a few days to make a decision,” he said.
    A deal brokered last month by European Union diplomats to help end the crisis foresees the release of people convicted on charges related to the 2019 protests.
    The agreement also includes sweeping electoral and judicial reforms, including more power-sharing in parliament, starting from this year’s autumn session.
(Reporting by David Chkhikvishvili; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Peter Graff and Hugh Lawson)

5/10/2021 EU Prepares New Round Of Belarus Sanctions From June, Diplomats Say by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions of Belt and Road Forum
at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.
    Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.
    Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.
    The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.
    Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.
    Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.
    EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.
    “We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.
    The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.
    Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.
    “The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.
    More details were not immediately available.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

5/11/2021 DEVELOPING: At Least 7 Dead In School Shooting In Russia, Suspect In Custody by OAN Newsroom
Ambulances and police cars and a truck are parked at a school after a shooting in Kazan, Russia, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
Russian media report that several people have been killed and wounded in a school shooting in the city of Kazan. Russia’s state RIA Novosti
news agency reported the shooting took place Tuesday morning, citing emergency services. (AP Photo/Roman Kruchinin)
    There’s developing news out of Russia where multiple people are dead and several others are injured after a school shooting.    According to reports, an explosion was heard inside the school before gunshots were fired.
    Authorities said a gunman opened fire at a school in Kazan Tuesday, killing at least seven people and leaving more than 16 others hospitalized.    Among them were 12 children, four of whom are in intensive care.
    Authorities have arrested the 19-year-old suspect and an investigation is underway.    Russian media pointed to the shooters Telegram messaging app, where he had allegedly promised “to kill a large amount of biomass.”    His account has since been removed by the app.
    “Our hearts and minds are with parents of perished and wounded children, and the residents of this beautiful and open-minded city,” stated Dmitry Polyanskiy, First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia.    “We need to analyze how we got there and move forward.”
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed assistance to the victims’ families monetarily.    He also advised the chief of the country’s National Guard to look into revisions for gun ownership for civilians.
    More information will become available as the situation further develops.

5/11/2021 Eat Out, Work Out, See A Film: Belgium To Ease Lockdown by Marine Strauss
People celebrate the end of the curfew, as Belgium reopens their outdoor space, including terraces of bars and restaurants, after closing down
for months due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in central Brussels, Belgium, May 8, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Belgium plans to ease nearly all lockdown measures from June 9 provided the country’s vaccination campaign keeps up its momentum and the number of people in intensive care units remains under 500, the government said on Tuesday.
    The plans to reopen mark a turnaround for Belgium, home to NATO and the European Union headquarters.    It has one of the world’s highest per capita death rates from COVID-19, but its vaccination drive is now among the most efficient in the bloc.
    “The more people are vaccinated, the faster we will get our freedom back,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference.
    He said all sectors could reopen then if 80% of the population with a pre-existing medical condition could be vaccinated and the maximum number of people in intensive care units was 500.
    He called on Belgians to get vaccinated and said the goal was for all measures to disappear on Sept. 1.
    Already, from June 9, Belgians will be able to dine at restaurants until 10pm and outdoor terraces will remain open until 11:30 pm.
    Large events will be authorised, such as shows, exhibitions and theatres with a maximum of 200 people permitted inside.
    Outside, up to 400 people will be allowed to attend events, such as festivals and the outdoor screening of the 2020 European soccer competition postponed last year, while weddings will be possible indoors for up to 100 and outdoors for 200 guests.
    Masks and social-distancing will still be required for large events wherever they are held.
    Fairs, flea markets, saunas, casinos, bowling alleys, parks, fitness centres, gyms, sports training and competitions will reopen, with improved ventilation systems if they are indoor.
    Belgians will also be allowed back into offices one day per week.
    Since a national lockdown at the start of the year, the health situation in Belgium, where more than 24,000 people have died from COVID-19, has improved.
    The seven-day average of daily infections stands at just under 3,000, a 4% drop from last week, and more than 3.6 million Belgians, almost 40% of the adult population, have received a first dose of vaccine.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Barbara Lewis)

5/11/2021 Nine Killed, Many Wounded In Russian School Shooting by Andrew Osborn, Tom Balmforth and Alexander Marrow
Law enforcement officers stand next to the entrance of School Number 175 after
a deadly shooting in Kazan, Russia May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Artem Dergunov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Nine people, including seven children, were killed on Tuesday and many more badly wounded after a lone teenage gunman opened fire in a school in the Russian city of Kazan, local authorities said, prompting a Kremlin call for tighter gun controls.
    Two children could be seen leaping from the third floor of the four-storey School Number 175 to escape as gunshots rang out, in a video filmed by an onlooker that was circulated by Russia’s RIA news agency.
    “We heard the sounds of explosions at the beginning of the second lesson.    All the teachers locked the children in the classrooms.    The shooting was on the third floor,” said one teacher, quoted by Tatar Inform, a local media outlet.
    Calling the attack a tragedy for the country, Rustam Minnikhanov, the head of the wider Tatarstan region, said there was no evidence that anyone else had been involved.
    “We have lost seven children – four boys and three girls.    We also lost a teacher.    And we lost one more female staff worker,” he said in a video address.
    “The terrorist has been arrested.    He’s a 19-year-old who was officially registered as a gun owner,” he said.    He said the victims were in the eighth year of school, which in Russia would make them around 14 or 15 years old.
    Russia’s Investigative Committee, which investigates major crimes, said in a statement it had opened a criminal case into the shooting and that the identity of the detained attacker had been established.
    Reuters could not immediately contact a lawyer for the suspect, who was named in Russian media but whose identity was not officially disclosed, standard practice in Russia until a suspect has been formally charged.
    Footage posted on social media showed a young man being pinned to the ground outside the school by police officers.
    State TV later broadcast a separate video showing what it said was the suspect, a young man stripped to the waist and under restraint, being questioned by investigators.    He could be heard saying that “a monster” had awoken in him, that he had realised that he was a god, and had begun to hate everyone.
    The incident was Russia’s deadliest school shooting since 2018 when a student at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea killed 20 people before turning his gun on himself.
    A social media account called “God,” which Russian media said belonged to the suspect, was blocked by the Telegram messaging service citing its rules prohibiting what it described as “calls to violence.”
    The account, created before the shooting, contained posts in which a young masked and bespectacled man described himself as a god and said he planned to kill a “huge number” of people and himself.    Reuters could not independently confirm whether the account belonged to the detained suspect.
    Minnikhanov, the regional leader, said 18 children were in hospital with a range of injuries, including gunshot wounds and broken and fractured bones.    Three adults with gunshot wounds were also in hospital, he said, saying doctors were doing all they could to save the lives of those wounded.
    Footage showed a corridor inside the school strewn with debris, including smashed glass and broken doors.    Another still image showed a body on the floor of a blood-stained classroom.
    Russia has strict restrictions on civilian firearm ownership, but some categories of guns are available for purchase for hunting, self-defence or sport, once would-be owners have passed tests and met other requirements.
    President Vladimir Putin ordered the head of the national guard to draw up tighter gun regulations, the Kremlin said.    The guards would urgently look into the status of weapons that can be registered for hunting in Russia but are considered assault weapons elsewhere.
    The suspect had been issued a permit for a Hatsan Escort PS shotgun on April 28, Alexander Khinshtein, a lawmaker in the lower house of parliament, wrote on social media.    He gave no further details and Reuters was not able to confirm this independently.
    Kazan is the capital of the Muslim-majority region of Tatarstan and located around 450 miles (725 km) east of Moscow.
(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Dmitry Antonov, Polina Devitt and Maria VasilyevaWriting by Andrew Osborn and Tom BalmforthEditing by John Stonestreet and Peter Graff)

5/11/2021 Polish FX Mortgage Decision Delayed Again As Court Seeks More Views by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz
Firefighters wait outside the Polish Supreme Court after a bomb threat, the day the court's Civil Chamber
is due to issue guidance on Swiss francs mortgages, in Warsaw, Poland May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) -Thousands of Polish borrowers were again left in limbo on Tuesday as Poland’s Supreme Court delayed a decision on how courts should treat cases involving foreign currency loans.
    Many had pursued Polish banks over mortgages they took out in Swiss francs more than a decade ago to take advantage of low Swiss interest rates, only to face far higher costs when the value of the Polish zloty slumped.
    “I am mad,” 63-year-old retired musician Zbigniew Karpinski, who has a Swiss-franc mortgage on his home in south-western Poland, said of the latest delay in the long-drawn out process.
    “It is obviously about dragging it out over time,” he added.
    Tuesday’s hearing, which had already been delayed twice, was expected to lay out how courts should treat key issues in FX loan cases, such as whether banks can charge interest on a loan with a clause deemed to be abusive and when the period during which banks can claim the reimbursement of money begins.
    However, at the end of a day which had seen the court and other state institutions evacuated after bomb threats, court spokesman Aleksander Stepkowski said the court had decided to seek opinions from institutions including Poland’s central bank, financial regulator KNF and the children’s rights ombudsman.
    “These institutions have 30 days to take a position,” Stepkowski told reporters.    However, he said there was no fixed date for the next hearing on the subject.
    “It can be said that these relatively non-standard actions are justified, in fact they fit in some way with the rather precedent-setting nature of the legal issue itself,” he said.
    Tadeusz Bialek, deputy head of the Polish Bank Association said he understood the decision to ask for further opinions.
    “If the Supreme Court believes that for a complete picture … it needs extra expert opinions in this case I think it is hard to judge that negatively,” he told Reuters.
    Bank Millennium, the Polish unit of Portugal’s BCP, said it saw no need to raise capital to cover potential settlements over Swiss franc loans.
    Separately, the CEO of state-run lender PKO BP unexpectedly resigned ahead of the hearing.
    State-run news channel TVP Info reported that around 40 locations in Warsaw had been evacuated after the bomb threats.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Justyna Pawlak, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Alicja Ptak and Anna Koper; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Jason Neely and Alexander Smith)

5/11/2021 Austria Snubs EU Plea To Accept Lampedusa Migrants by Sabine Siebold
Migrants from the reception centre board the Asso Trenta ship to be taken to the
quarantine ship GNV Azzurra, in Lampedusa, Italy May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello
    (Reuters) – Austria on Tuesday rejected a plea for other European Union countries to accept migrants from Italy, following a surge in arrivals on Lampedusa that seems likely to expose deep-seated divisions across the bloc over migration.
    More than 2,000 mostly African migrants have reached the tiny island off Italy’s southern coast by boat since Sunday, overwhelming its reception centre.
    On Monday, the EU’s home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson called on member states to show solidarity with Italy and support their relocation.    The EU’s executive said on Tuesday it had not yet received any pledges from countries to take any of them in.
    Austria would not do so.    “Austria is steering a very clear course: A distribution (of the Lampedusa migrants) all over Europe is not an approach that will bring a solution,” its Europe minister, Karoline Edtstadler, said in Brussels.
    The EU should rather help people in Africa directly, while also sending a message that not everyone who makes it to Europe can stay there, she added.
    Lampedusa is one of the main landing points for people trying to get into Europe from Africa, and the latest arrivals were being transferred elsewhere in Italy.
    The 27-nation EU has argued bitterly over migration since 2015, when over 1 million mostly Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan refugees reached its borders.
    Arrivals dropped significantly to about 95,000 last year, according to United Nations data, most to Italy, Spain and Greece.
    In 2019, Italy agreed a plan with other European states to redistribute migrants after they arrived.
    But that voluntary scheme has not provided a stable solution, and a cross-EU pact to tackle the issue proposed by the Commission last September has not been ratified as Hungary and Poland have refused to participate.
    The Italian government on Tuesday denied a report by the La Repubblica newspaper that it would ask the EU to pay Libya – where the vast majority of African refugees travelling by sea depart from – to stop migrant boats leaving its coast.
    The bloc struck such a deal with Turkey in 2016 to stem migrant flows from the Balkans.
    “At the moment there is no initiative regarding creating a similar deal” with Libya, an official in the prime minister’s office said.
    The official said the government’s view was that the EU must give more attention to the situation in the southern Mediterranean and be ready to offer financial help to all African countries involved in migrant flows.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Clement Rossignol and Gavin Jones; Editing by John Chalmers and John Stonestreet)

5/11/2021 Ukraine Advances Treason Case Against Kremlin Ally by Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with leader of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform - For Life
political party Viktor Medvedchuk in Moscow, Russia March 10, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) -The Ukrainian authorities put Viktor Medvedchuk, the Kremlin’s most prominent ally in Ukraine, under formal suspicion for high treason on Tuesday as part of a crackdown on his circle that has fuelled tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.
    Prosecutors are seeking to detain Medvedchuk, an opposition party leader and businessman, on suspicion of treason and the attempted plundering of national resources in Crimea, the territory that was annexed by Russia in 2014.
    “Medvedchuk, as the organiser of all this illegal activity, having strong ties with the leadership of the Russian Federation, began, according to the investigation, subversive activities against Ukraine, including in the economic sphere,” Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told a press conference.
    As evidence, Venediktova and the head of Ukraine’s security service said Medvedchuk had enabled Russia to appropriate a gas field in Crimea that Medvedchuk had obtained a licence to explore before the 2014 annexation.
    Medvedchuk’s party issued a statement saying the treason investigation and raids on his home were revenge for Medvedchuk exposing the government’s failings.
    In a separate statement, Medvedchuk said the treason case was “fabricated,” adding: “I declare that I am in Ukraine and do not intend to hide from justice.”
    Tuesday’s move is part of a widening crackdown against Medvedchuk that began in February when he and associates were put under sanctions by Ukraine’s president and three television channels owned by an ally were forced off air.
    It comes after months of tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over a build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and rising clashes in eastern Ukraine.    The Kremlin has sharply criticised the crackdown on Medvedchuk.
    Prosecutors also put lawmaker Taras Kozak, Medvedchuk’s political associate and the owner of the three television channels that were placed under restrictions in February, under formal suspicion for high treason and are seeking his arrest.
    Kozak could not immediately be reached for comment.    The head of Ukraine’s security service (SBU), Ivan Bakanov, said Medvedchuk was believed to be in Ukraine while Kozak was in Russia.
    Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian citizen but has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has said the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter.    The Kremlin said in February it was alarmed by the sanctions against him.
    Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for escalating clashes in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops have fought Russian-backed separatist forces in a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government said on Tuesday Russia still had around 100,000 soldiers massed near Ukraine’s border and in Crimea despite announcing a troop pullback in April after a standoff that alarmed the West.
    The United States slapped sanctions on Medvedchuk in 2014 and supported the crackdown on the TV channels this year to “prevent disinformation from being deployed as a weapon in an information war against sovereign states.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Ilya Zhegulev; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Giles Elgood, Alexandra Hudson and Mark Heinrich)

5/14/2021 Top Russian admiral frets over increased activities by NATO
    SEVEROMORSK, Russia – A top Russian admiral complained Thursday about increased NATO military activities near the country’s borders, describing them as a threat to regional security.    Adm. Alexander Moiseyev, the commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet, said that NATO navy ships’ presence in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea have reached levels unseen since World War II.    Moiseyev said NATO drills have edged closer to Russian borders, and noted increasingly frequent flights by U.S. nuclear-capable strategic bombers.

5/18/2021 Switzerland Is Most Likely Venue For Putin-Biden Summit – Russia’s Kommersant
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. economy in the East Room
at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Switzerland is the most likely venue for a potential summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in June, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday, citing government sources.
    Biden, who in March said he thought Putin was a “killer,” prompting Moscow to recall its ambassador to Washington for consultations, has said he would like to hold talks with Putin during a planned trip to Europe next month.
    The White House has said that differences between Washington and Moscow would need to be resolved before such a meeting.    The Kremlin has said it is studying the possibility of holding the summit.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken are due to hold talks later this week in Iceland, the highest-level talks between Moscow and Washington since Biden took office.
    They are expected to discuss preparations for the potential summit.
    Biden has proposed he hold talks with Putin on June 15-16 in a European country, Kommersant reported last month.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/18/2021 Thirsty Czechs Return To Beer Gardens As COVID Rules Relaxed
FILE PHOTO: People cheer with beers at an outdoor seating section of a pub, as the Czech government lifted more restrictions allowing restaurants
with outdoor areas to re-open amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, May 11, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The world’s thirstiest beer drinkers finally clinked their pilsner mugs in the drizzle on Monday, as beer gardens opened despite unseasonably cold grey weather in the Czech Republic, a landmark event after five months of COVID-19 lockdown.
    “Finally, I am sitting here as a human,” said Martin Krisko, savouring his cold beer with a meal served hot, on a plate, rather than lukewarm in a plastic takeaway container, at the Beer Time pub in Prague’s former industrial quarter Smichov.
    The Czech Republic, home to the original pilsner, consumes the most beer per capita in the world, and reopening its pubs for outdoor service is seen as an important step in its plans to relax its COVID-19 restrictions.
    The country was hit hard by the second wave of COVID-19, with one of the highest per capita death rates in the world.
    Lately, it has been reporting steadily decreasing numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalisations.    As of Monday morning, the seven-day count of new cases per 100,000 people decreased to 71, on course for further easing of restrictions.
    A vaccination programme has gathered pace, with the government opening inoculations on Monday to those over 40.    As of the beginning of the week, 4.1 million doses had been distributed in the country of 10.7 million people.
    In Prague’s historic centre, locals gathered for beer in places usually taken by tourists, although gloomy weather with rain and temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius (60°F) kept the numbers thin.
    “When everyone is inoculated and the weather turns nice, things will roll,” said Jiri Zaman, tapping pints at one of the restaurants in the cobblestoned Old Town Square.
    Secondary schools are still shut, and some Czechs are critical of the government’s priorities in opening restaurant terraces first.    But gyms opened too on Monday.
    Gabriela Chomikova, headed to her fitness centre for the first time this year, said she was just grateful to be around other people, “rather than to be locked at home.”
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/18/2021 Russia Moves To Bar Navalny Allies From Parliamentary Race
FILE PHOTO: Lyubov Sobol, a Russian opposition figure and a close ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny,
speaks with journalists after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s parliament approved a bill on Tuesday that would bar members of “extremist” organisations from serving as lawmakers, a move that allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny say aims to stop them running in September’s parliamentary election.
    The bill, which the lower house of parliament approved in a first reading, comes as a court is considering outlawing Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation and regional campaign groups as extremist.
    The draft legislation proposes barring any members or heads of groups declared extremist from running for seats in the State Duma lower house for periods ranging from one to five years.
    If passed, the bill would likely derail campaigns for the parliament announced by activists such as Lyubol Sobol, who is currently under house arrest for taking part in a protest in support of Navalny.
    Sobol described the bill on Twitter as an “unconstitutional” attempt to bar her from running in the election this September.
    Before becoming law, the bill needs to be approved in two more readings in the lower house, before being backed by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin.
    Vasily Piskarev, a lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party who co-authored the bill, said it was necessary to bar people from “extremist” organisations from holding seats in parliament because they could use their position “for propaganda and the justification of their ideas, as well as for the recruitment of new followers.”
    If Russia formally declares Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and regional groups extremist, authorities will gain the formal power to jail activists and freeze their bank accounts.    The next court hearing in the case is set for June 9.
    The case has already prompted Navalny’s allies to disband the regional groups.
    Navalny’s allies say the extremism allegations are an attempt to blunt their political opposition to United Russia at the parliamentary election.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Tom Balmforth and William Maclean)

5/18/2021 Blinken Says Russia Has Advanced Unlawful Maritime Claims In The Arctic by Humeyra Pamuk and Nikolaj Skydsgaard
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with Icelandic foreign minister
at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 18, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
    REYKJAVIK (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticised Russia’s activities in the Arctic region, describing them as ‘unlawful maritime claims’ and repeated calls to avoid the militarisation of the region, days before a gathering of Arctic nations.
    Blinken made the warning ahead of a planned meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, the first such high-level in-person talks between Washington and Moscow since President Joe Biden took office in January.
    The United States has previously accused Russia of demanding that foreign vessels request permissions to pass in the Arctic region and requiring Russian maritime pilots to board the ships, while threatening to use force against vessels failing to comply.
    “We’ve seen Russia advance unlawful maritime claims, particularly its regulation of foreign vessels transiting the Northern Sea route, which are inconsistent with international law,” Blinken said at a briefing with Iceland’s foreign minister in Reykjavik.
    Russia has ambitious plans to build ports along the so-called Northern Sea Route, which would shorten the distance between China and Europe, and has beefed up its military presence along its Arctic coastline.
    Lavrov suggested on Monday that Arctic Council member nations have heads of their respected armed forces meet regularly to defuse any tensions that arise.    He also dismissed the Western alliance’s concerns over increasing Russian military activity in the Arctic.
    “It’s long been well known to everyone that this is our territory, this is our land, we are responsible for ensuring that our Arctic coast is safe.    And everything our country does there is absolutely legal and legitimate,” he said.
    But Blinken said Washington was worried that the increased militarisation will lead to bigger problems.    This increases the risk of “accidents and miscalculations,” he said, while it “undermined the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region>”
    In attempts to defend freedom of access and navigation on the Northern Sea Route, the U.S. Navy twice last year conducted exercises with European allies in the Barents Sea close to Russia for the first time since the mid-1980s.
    The United States has urged Russia to submit its regulatory scheme to the International Maritime Organization for consideration, but Russia had yet to do so, Blinken said.
    “The regulatory scheme that Russia has put forward does not give due regard, as required by international law, to navigation rights and freedom to the territorial seas and exclusive economic zone,” he said.
    Since Biden was inaugurated, Washington and Moscow have clashed over charges of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election; challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty; Moscow’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny; and U.S. support of democracy activists in Russia and Belarus.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard, Humeyra Pamuk and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Alistair Bell)

5/18/2021 Ukraine’s Parliament Fires Health Minister Over COVID Vaccine Shortage
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov speaks during
an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine’s parliament voted on Tuesday to fire Health Minister Maksym Stepanov, accusing him of failing to supply adequate vaccine doses to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Ukraine is among the European countries most affected by the pandemic and has lagged in its vaccination efforts, with only 948,330 Ukrainians having received their first vaccine dose as of May 18 out of a population of around 41 million.
    “The main task that the minister faced for 2021 was vaccination and the provision of Ukraine with a sufficient amount of vaccines in the first half of this year.    Progress on this issue is very slow,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told parliament.    Shmygal last week formally asked parliament to sack Stepanov.
    “(So far) 2.3 million doses of vaccine have been delivered to Ukraine, which is hard to call the effective work of the Health Minister,” the prime minister said.
    Stepanov, in turn, said that he did everything possible to combat the epidemic and he has a plan on how to create an effective medical system.    He said the country could receive 42 million doses of various vaccines this year.
    Ukraine has registered more than 2 million infections and 48,469 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.
    Parliament, which votes to appoint ministers, might consider Stepanov’s replacement on Thursday.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia ZinetsEditing by Peter Graff)

5/19/2021 Bosnia Court Set Free Former Dinamo Zagreb Coach Sought By Croatia
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League - Round of 16 First Leg - Tottenham Hotspur v GNK Dinamo Zagreb - Tottenham Hotspur
Stadium, London, Britain - March 11, 2021. Zoran Mamic hands out instructions to Dinamo Zagreb players. REUTERS/Toby Melville
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) -Bosnia’s top court released former Dinamo Zagreb coach Zoran Mamic on Wednesday following his detention on an international arrest warrant issued by Croatia after he had fled to Bosnia to evade serving a jail sentence for fraud.
    Mamic was set free but had to hand over his personal documents and was ordered to show up at court each week.    The court said it had not considered Croatia’s extradition request for Mamic because it had not received it yet.
    After Mamic’s four-year-and-eight-month prison sentence was confirmed in March, he failed to show up to serve the sentence last week, and it turned out that he escaped to Bosnia.    Mamic is also a Bosnian citizen.
    Mamic has asked to serve the sentence in Bosnia, but Croatia refused.    He was sentenced to jail together with his brother Zdravko Mamic, former Dinamo executive president.
    They had been charged together with another former Dinamo official and one tax expert for tax evasion worth 12.2 million kuna ($1.98 million) and for embezzlement of 116 million kuna from transfers of players from Dinamo.
    The Mamic brothers denied any wrongdoing.    Zdravko Mamic, also with a dual citizenship, now lives in Bosnia which refused to extradite him.
    Zoran Mamic resigned in March as Dinamo coach.
(1$ = 6.15 kuna)
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/19/2021 Police Hold 11 Staff Of Popular Belarus Media Outlet
Katerina Borisevich, a journalist for the independent news outlet Tut.By, speaks on the phone
after being released from a prison in Gomel, Belarus May 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian police were holding 11 employees of the widely-followed news site in custody on Wednesday, the outlet said, a day after searching offices and homes in a criminal investigation of suspected tax evasion.
    Authorities on Tuesday blocked the website of, which has provided detailed coverage of street protests since August against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.
    On Wednesday, it used social media to publish a list of detained staff members, including its chief editor and several administrative employees.    It said it was still piecing together what had happened during Tuesday’s searches.
    The State Control Committee, to which the financial investigation department reports, said on Tuesday a case against unnamed staff had been opened over suspected tax irregularities.
    Exiled opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused authorities of trying to “murder” the outlet and called for Western sanctions on those responsible.
    In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown last year against the protests.
    Around 35,000 people have been detained for taking part in street protests since August, human rights groups say.    Dozens have received jail terms.    Authorities say that more than 1,000 criminal cases have been opened.
    Last autumn, the government stripped of its official media status and the two have been at odds throughout the demonstrations.
    One of its journalists was sentenced to six months in jail in March after she challenged an official assertion that a protester who was killed was drunk at the time of his death.    She was released on Wednesday due to time served.
    The outlet’s website registered more than half a million views per day during the working week in 2019, according to data from research company Gemius.
(Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/19/2021 Russia Offers To Help Mediate In Armenia-Azerbaijan Border Row
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with Mexico's Foreign
Minister Marcelo Ebrard in Moscow, Russia April 28, 2021. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS
    DUSHANBE (Reuters) -Russia said on Wednesday it had offered to help mediate demarcation negotiations after Armenia accused Azerbaijan of a border incursion.
    Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of sending troops across the border last week, highlighting the fragility of a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces last year.
    Azerbaijan has denied crossing the frontier and said its forces only defended their side.    But Armenia said on Friday that Azerbaijan had failed to fulfil a promise to withdraw troops that had crossed the border.
    “Russia has offered first of all to provide assistance with the delimitation and demarcation of the border,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Tajikistan.
    He said Moscow had proposed setting up a joint Armenian-Azeri commission, with Russia possibly participating as a consultant or mediator.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin later held separate calls with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Armenian acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
    Putin said Moscow would assist Azerbaijan and Armenia in reaching an agreement, according to a readout of the talks published by the Kremlin.
    Armen Grigoryan, secretary of the Armenian government’s security council, said demarcation work could not start until Azeri troops had left Armenian territory, TASS news agency reported.
    However, Armenia’s defence ministry said talks between the Armenian and Azeri defence officials were underway, the Interfax news agency reported.
    “In the absence of a peaceful settlement within a reasonable timeframe – in the event that Azerbaijan’s military does not return to its original positions without any preconditions – the Armenian armed forces have the right to resolve the issue by other means, including by force,” the ministry said.
    Moscow helped secure a ceasefire in November after Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenians out of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    Russia, which has a military base in Armenia, sent peacekeepers to the area last year to help enforce the ceasefire.    It has strong ties and a mutual defence pact with Armenia but is also friendly with Azerbaijan.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov, additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Tom Balmforth, Andrew Cawthorne, Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)

5/20/2021 Candidates To Succeed Merkel Clash On Nord Stream 2 Pipeline by Paul Carrel
FILE PHOTO: A road sign directs traffic towards the Nord Stream 2 gas line landfall facility
entrance in Lubmin, Germany, September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The conservative and Greens candidates to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel after September’s federal election clashed on Thursday on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, and on whether Germany should host U.S nuclear weapons.
    In their first debate, focused on foreign and security policy, Armin Laschet, from Merkel’s conservative alliance, welcomed a decision by the U.S. administration this week to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its chief executive.
    Gazprom and its Western partners are racing to finish the pipeline to send natural gas under the Baltic Sea.    The project, now about 95% complete, would bypass Ukraine, depriving it of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermining its struggle with Russia.
    “I stand by the project and consider it important,” Laschet said in the debate hosted by broadcaster WDR.
    “This decision on how we organize our energy supply we make ourselves, by the way, and so it is a good signal that the policy of President Trump has ended,” he said, referring to the U.S. waiver on sanctions.
    “Germany always has Ukraine’s security in mind,” he added.
    But Annalena Baerbock, the environmentalist Greens’ candidate, said the pipeline issue was “about war and peace,” arguing that Nord Stream 2 risks undermining Ukraine’s security. In recent months, Russia, in what it called a defensive exercise, massed troops on its western border with Ukraine and in Crimea.
    Baerbock made the running for much of the debate, but Laschet and Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ (SPD) chancellor candidate, called her out when she said “this German government is completely against all other Europeans with this (pipeline) project.”
    In the most heated exchange in the hour-long debate, Laschet retorted: “That’s not true Ms. Baerbock, and you know it.”
    The project pits Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, against central and eastern European nations, some of them EU members, who say it would increase the bloc’s dependence on Russian gas.
    Baerbock’s differences with Laschet and Scholz are significant because opinion polls show a coalition is as good as certain to follow after the election, with the Greens likely to join forces with either Laschet’s conservative camp or Scholz’s SPD.
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

5/20/2021 Exclusive: G7 Playing A ‘Dangerous Game’ By Pushing Moscow Towards China – Russian Envoy by Guy Faulconbridge
Ambassador of Russia to the United Kingdom Andrei Kelin speaks during an interview with Reuters, inside the
residence of the Russian Ambassador, in London, Britain, May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
    LONDON (Reuters) – The Group of Seven is playing a “dangerous game” by making aggressive and baseless criticism of the Kremlin because it pushes Russia closer to China, Russia’s ambassador to London Andrei Kelin told Reuters on Thursday.
    G7 foreign ministers this month scolded both China and Russia, casting the Kremlin as malicious and Beijing as a bully, but beyond words there were few concrete steps aside from expressing support for Taiwan and Ukraine.
    The G7, in a 12,400-word communique, said Russia was a destabilising influence on the world because of its 2014 annexation of Crimea, its build up on Ukraine’s border and its meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.
    Kelin said the G7’s critique was biased, confrontational, lacked substance and was stoking anti-Western feelings among Russians, while its aggressive attitude towards Russia and China was pushing the two powers together.
    “This is a dangerous game,” Kelin, 64, told Reuters.    “Russia and China have enormous potential in different fields – in the economy, in technology, in military capacities, in politics – this potential is spread around the world.”
    “We are not allies with China, however pushing Russia and China, it closes our ranks with China – in that sense we are more and more united against challenges that are being presented from the West.”
    Russia, the world’s largest country by territory, denies it meddles beyond its borders and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.
    China, the world’s second largest economy, says the West is a bully and that its leaders have a post-imperial mindset that makes them feel they can act like global policemen.
    G7 leaders gather for a summit in St Ives, in the southern English region of Cornwall, on June 11-13.    How to deal with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is expected to be on the agenda.
    Kelin, a career diplomat who speaks fluent English, French and Dutch, said Russia would proceed according to its own geopolitical interests and that if there were issues that needed to be discussed then dialogue was the best way.
    “But the G7 prefers megaphone diplomacy,” Kelin said.    “This is a club that expresses certain opinions on different subjects but it has no grounds to judge other countries about the state of democracy.”
    Asked about G7 criticism of the state of human rights in Russia, Kelin said the United States and Britain should pay more attention to the state of their own democracy after the attacks on the U.S. Capitol and race issues in Britain.
    “Look at yourself in this situation – but they don’t want to look at themselves,” Kelin said.    “No one gives them the right to judge others – especially on the state of democracy.”
    Russia was brought into what became the Group of Eight in 1997 under former President Boris Yeltsin but its membership was suspended in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.
    “We see discussions on this subject: let’s invite Russia, let’s not invite Russia.    It is strange for us as we are not eager to become once again a part of this club,” Kelin said.    “In our view it has lost its authority.”
    “It is divisive – it has a tendency to split the world into friends and aliens: they want to talk about coalitions of friends targetted against the others. This doesn’t bring solutions – it brings more problems to the world,” Kelin said.
    Russia, he said, was more interested in other forums such as the G20, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRICs organisation.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton, William Maclean)

5/20/2021 Germany, U.S. Want Closer Ties After Nord Stream 2 Sanctions Waiver – Merkel
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at
the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany May 12, 2021. Michael Sohn/Pool via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany and the United States are in talks to intensify their economic ties after the Biden administration waived sanctions on the company behind Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.
    “President Biden has now moved toward us a bit on the Nord Stream 2 conflict, where we have different views but where we will now talk further about what are the necessary commonalities in relation to Russia,” Merkel said in an interview with public broadcaster WDR.
    “We are in talks with each other in many areas … we are also in bilateral talks, for example, especially with regard to intensifying our economic cooperation,” she added.
    The Biden administration waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its chief executive earlier this week as the U.S. seeks to rebuild ties with Germany, after relations deteriorated under Republican former President Donald Trump.
    Gazprom and its Western partners are racing to finish the pipeline to send natural gas under the Baltic Sea.    The project, now about 95% complete, would bypass Ukraine, depriving it of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermining its struggle with Russia.
(Reporting by Paul Carrel and Joseph Nasr)

5/20/2021 Hungary To Extend COVID-19 Loan Moratorium To End-August – PM Aide
FILE PHOTO: Gergely Gulyas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff speaks during an interview in his office in Budapest, Hungary on September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Gergely Szakacs
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has decided to extend a COVID-19 loan repayment moratorium until the end of August, a top government official said on Thursday, shunning calls from local banks to narrow down the scope of those eligible.
    Hungary’s economy has gone into free fall since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, contracting by more than 13% in the second quarter of 2020 and more than 5% in the year as a whole.
    The moratorium, which was automatic unless customers asked to keep paying instalments, was initially put in place for six months and then extended by another six months until the end of June.
    As the economy expanded by a better-than-expected 1.9% quarter-on-quarter in the first three months of 2021, however, Hungary’s banks and the central bank have called for a narrower solution to help only the most vulnerable borrowers.
    “The government cannot support banks’ position in this debate.    We will definitely extend the moratorium in its current form until August 31,” Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, told a weekly briefing.
    Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party, which faces a closely contested election next April, has used one of Europe’s fastest vaccination campaigns to shed much of health and safety restrictions and reopen the economy.
    Budapest is also looking for a solution to allow those wishing to benefit from the moratorium beyond August, Gulyas said, adding that it could change into an opt-in scheme for both companies and retail borrowers.
    “We know this requires a large sacrifice from banks.    However, to restart the economy it is essential that private borrowers, families and companies be in a good financial shape,” Gulyas said.
    At 0924 GMT, shares in Hungary’s OTP Bank traded 1% higher at 14,950 forints ($52.09) on the Budapest Stock Exchange, slightly outperforming the blue chip index, which gained 0.7%.($1 = 287.01 forints)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves, Editing by Gabriela Baczynska)

5/20/2021 Zelenskiy: Russian Passports In Donbass Are A Step Towards ‘Annexation’
FILE PHOTO: Blank Russian passports are pictured during production at Goznak
printing factory in Moscow, Russia July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that Russia’s issuance of its passports to residents of eastern Ukraine was the first step towards annexation of the region.
    “This is definitely the first step, because the same thing happened once in Crimea, Crimea residents were given Russian passports.    This is a big problem,” Zelenskiy told a news conference.
    Russia’s TASS news agency quoted official sources as saying that more than 527,000 Russian passports had been handed out in Donbass since April 2019.
    Ukrainian authorities have said at least 400,000 Russian passports were distributed among residents in eastern Ukraine and the need to protect these people can be used as an excuse or a pretext for a possible open aggression against Ukraine.
    Relations between Moscow and Kyiv collapsed after Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 and Russian-backed separatists took control of a chunk of eastern Ukraine that same year.
    Tensions have flared again in recent months after the two countries traded blame for an uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine, and Russia, in what it called a defensive exercise, massed troops on its western border with Ukraine and in Crimea.
    Russia built up more than 100,000 military personnel near the Ukrainian border and continues to maintain them despite a promise to withdraw troops, Zelenskiy said, adding that the tension on the border could continue.
    “They (Russian forces) are moving away very, very slowly.    (This is) a serious situation and I think that such tension may be until the end of military exercises, at least until September,” he said.
    Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s western partners had largely contributed to easing tensions in relations between Kyiv and Moscow, but recently their pressure on the Kremlin has eased.
    “I feel their support, but I think they should support us more,” Zelenskiy said.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinest; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

5/20/2021 Kremlin Coy On Putin-Biden Summit After ‘Positive’ Diplomatic Talks
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Harpa Concert Hall,
on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial summit, in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 19, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -The Kremlin said on Thursday that President Vladimir Putin had yet to decide on whether a summit with his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden would go ahead, but hailed talks between the two countries’ top diplomats as a positive signal.
    Ties between Moscow and Washington are at a post-Cold War low after Biden in March said he thought Putin was a “killer,” prompting Moscow to recall its ambassador to Washington.
    Despite his remark, Biden has said he would like to talk with Putin during a trip to Europe next month.
    Russia has said it is weighing up the proposal.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s talks in Iceland on Wednesday were their first in-person meeting.
    They said they had serious differences in how they viewed world affairs, but could still find ways to work together.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks would help Moscow decide on the summit option. “Without a doubt, this is a positive signal,” he told reporters.
    “The very fact that the conversation … took place is positive.    But it’s obvious this process will not be simple.    Many problems have built up.    But at least the talks in Reykjavik between the foreign minister and the secretary of state will help inform the analysis underway in Moscow about (the desirability) of a meeting between the two presidents.”
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Andrew Cawthorne)

5/20/2021 Russia Calls For Military Meetings Between Arctic States As Tensions Rise
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) arrives for the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting at the
Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland May 20, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday urged Arctic states to resume high-level military meetings amid growing tension in the region and expressed concern about the deployment of foreign troops in Norway near the Russian border.
    As a warming climate is opening up the Arctic for shipping, fishing, drilling and mining, Russia has beefed up its military presence there and the United States is carrying out more naval exercises.
    “It is important to extend the positive relations that we have within the Arctic Council to encompass the military sphere as well,” Lavrov said in a speech at an Arctic Council meeting in Reykjavik.
    Military matters are not covered by the Arctic Council, which was created in 1996 to establish peaceful dialogue between Arctic states and indigenous people on issues such as environmental protection and sustainable development.
    On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of unlawful maritime claims in the Arctic.
    Annual meetings between armed forces chiefs from Arctic states were halted in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.    Russia has not participated in another forum, the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, since 2014.
    Lavrov proposed starting with a meeting of military experts from the general staffs of the eight Arctic countries.
    Russia takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council this year.
    Lavrov also voiced concern over NATO-member Norway, which shares a short border with Russia and last month allowed the United States to build facilities at three Norwegian airfields and a naval base.
    “We are concerned about what is going on close to our border with Norway,” Lavrov said.
    Relations between Norway and Russia gradually improved in the post-Cold War era before suffering a setback when Moscow annexed Crimea.    That led to a military build-up on both sides of the border and more frequent military manoeuvres.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

5/21/2021 Norway To Ease COVID-19 Restrictions Further Next Week by Victoria Klesty and Nerijus Adomaitis
FILE PHOTO: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg waits for Belarusian opposition leader
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Vilnius, Lithuania September 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will allow larger groups of people to meet from next week and let most bars and restaurants serve alcohol up to midnight as it takes its next major step in unwinding COVID-19 curbs, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Friday.
    The capital Oslo and its surrounding region will also relax some of its stricter localised restrictions, allowing gyms, cinemas, theatres and restaurants to reopen and children to resume indoor sports, authorities added.
    “We’re ending the social lockdown of Oslo that has lasted since early November,” city council chief Raymond Johansen told a news conference.     “This will allow many people to get back to work,” he said.
    Norway has had some of Europe’s lowest rates of infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.    But it tightened measures after a rapid increase in hospitalisations in March triggered by more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
    Since then, rates of new infections have declined steadily, raising hopes that a third wave of infections has been brought under control.
    (Graphic: Norway weekly COVID-19 infections,
    The relaxations are the second phase of a four-step plan to unwind the national lockdown.
    From May 27 in most of Norway, up to 200 people will be allowed to attend indoor events with fixed seats, up from the current 100, the government said.
    Many restrictions on participation in recreational sports will also be lifted.
    “This means that we can advance the work of getting Norway back up to speed,” Solberg told a news conference.
    The stricter localised restrictions covering Oslo and its region will be eased a day earlier from May 26.
    There, bars and restaurants will now be allowed to serve alcohol until 10 p.m., and up to 20 people to meet for indoors events, ending a ban on such gatherings.
    National advice against domestic travel will be lifted immediately on Friday, the government said.
    Norway is not part of the European Union but is part of the single European market and of the Schengen travel zone.
    About one in three adults have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and roughly 15% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
(Editing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Heavens)

5/21/2021 Russia Opens Criminal Case After 10 Workers Die From Sewage Plant Fumes
Investigators work at the site of an accident at a sewage plant in the village of Dmitriadovka near the city of Taganrog
in Rostov Region, Russia May 21, 2021. Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian investigators opened a criminal case on Friday after 10 workers died of suspected poisoning while cleaning a sewage plant.
    Russia’s Investigative Committee, a body that probes major crimes, said it was investigating whether the plant in the village of Dmitriadovka, near the city of Taganrog in Russia’s southern Rostov region, had violated industrial safety rules.
    The RIA news agency cited local officials as saying methane had leaked during emergency restoration work at the sewage treatment plant.
    Authorities in Taganrog said 10 people had died and another eight had been hospitalised.
    A person who answered the phone at the plant declined to comment and referred all inquiries to the Taganrog administration.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/24/2021 Belarus Faces Sanctions Backlash Over Jetliner ‘State Piracy’ by Sabine Siebold and Matthias Williams
Belarusian blogger Roman Protasevich, detained when a Ryanair plane was forced to land in Minsk, is seen in a pre-trial detention facility, as he says, in
Minsk, Belarus May 24, 2021 in this still image taken from video. Telegram@Zheltyeslivy/Reuters TV/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    BRUSSELS/KYIV (Reuters) -Western powers prepared to pile sanctions on Belarus and cut off its aviation links on Monday, furious after it scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair aircraft and arrest a dissident journalist, an act one leader denounced as ‘state piracy.’
    In a video posted online, the detained blogger Roman Protasevich, 26, said he was in good health, being held in a pretrial detention facility in Minsk, and acknowledged having played a role in organising mass disturbances in the capital last year.
    In the video on the Telegram messaging app, he wore a dark sweatshirt and clasped his hands tightly in front of him.    The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies as having been made under duress.
    A Polish deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, told private broadcaster TVN24 that his government had heard from Protasevich’s mother about his being in poor health but provided no details.
    Belarus’s interior ministry said Protasevich was being held in jail and had not complained of ill health.
    European Union leaders meeting in Brussels called for Belarusian airlines to be banned from the 27-nation bloc’s airspace and urged EU-based carriers to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic, according to a joint statement.
    They also agreed to widen the list of Belarusian individuals they already sanction and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to urgently investigate Belarus forcing a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk on a Greece-Lithuania flight on Sunday.
    “The reaction should be swift and be severe,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of the EU summit that began at 1700 GMT. [L2N2NB0FT]
    Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other EU countries, said: “This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored.”
    The EU and other Western countries also called for the release of Protasevich, who was detained when the plane landed.
    His social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent last year.    Sophia Sapega, a 23-year-old student travelling with him, was also detained.
    Some airlines and countries did not wait for guidance on how to respond to the diversion of the Ryanair flight.
    Britain said it was instructing British airlines to cease flights over Belarus and that it would suspend the air permit for Belarus’s national carrier Belavia with immediate effect.    KLM, the Dutch arm of carrier Air France KLM, will temporarily halt flights, Dutch news agency ANP reported.
    Still, the options for Western retaliation appear limited.
    The Montreal-based ICAO has no regulatory power, and the EU has no authority over flights taking off and landing in Belarus or flying over its airspace, apart from direct flights that originate or land in Europe.
    Belarus lies on the flight path of routes within Europe and between Europe and Asia, and skirting Belarus would slow flights down and cost airlines money.
    The EU and the United States imposed several rounds of financial sanctions against Minsk last year, which had no effect on the behaviour of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who withstood mass demonstrations against his rule after a disputed election.
    Lukashenko denies election fraud.    Since the disputed vote, authorities rounded up thousands of his opponents, with all major opposition figures now in jail or exile.
    NEXTA, a news service where Protasevich worked before setting up his own widely followed blog, ran an interview with his mother, who said that as soon as she heard reports of a bomb scare on a flight, she knew it was a plot to capture him.
    “I just want to say that my son is simply a hero, simply a hero,” Natalia Protasevich said, weeping.    “I truly hope that the international community will wake up for him.”
    Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat written in the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.    Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied his group had any knowledge or connection to the matter.
    Belarus said its ground controllers had given guidance to the flight but had not ordered it to land.    State media said the intervention was ordered personally by Lukashenko.
    Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said he believed security agents had been on the flight.
    Lithuanian authorities said five passengers never arrived, suggesting three others besides detainees Protasevich and Sapega had disembarked in Minsk.
    Russia, which has provided security, diplomatic and financial backing to Lukashenko, accused the West of hypocrisy.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Gabriela Baczynska, Sabine Siebold, Jan Strupczewski, Philip Blenkinsop and John Chalmers in Brussels; Matthias Williams in Kyiv; Andrew Osborn in Moscow; and Michel Rose, Tim Hepher and Laurence Frost in Paris; Writing by John Chalmers; editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)

5/24/2021 Russian Prosecutor Seeks To Ban Dolce & Gabbana Same-Sex Kiss Ads
A screenshot taken on May 24, 2021 shows a Dolce & Gabbana displayed on Instagram depicting a same-sex couple kissing.
    MOSCOW/MILAN (Reuters) – A Russian prosecutor has called for Dolce & Gabbana Instagram advertisements showing same-sex couples kissing to be banned in the country following a lawmaker’s complaint about them, the prosecutor’s office said on Monday.
    Mikhail Romanov, a member of the ruling United Russia party who sits in the Duma, or lower house of parliament, filed the complaint about the ads posted under the @dolcegabbana handle, the St Petersburg courts press service said.
    The two short videos were part of the Italian fashion house’s global “Love is Love” campaign in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
    Same-sex relationships are legal in Russia, but a 2013 law bans disseminating “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” among young Russians.    Human rights groups have condemned the legislation, saying it has helped increase social hostility towards homosexuality.
    Dolce & Gabbana declined to comment on the case.
    On May 14, the press service for the St Petersburg courts said the prosecutor had filed a claim asking for one of the Dolce & Gabbana Instagram ads showing two girls kissing to be banned in Russia.
    In a statement, the press office said the claim established that the video “contains information that rejects family values and propagandizes non-traditional sexual relationships.”
    On Monday, the press service said the prosecutor’s ban request included a second Dolce & Gabbana Instagram image showing two young men kissing.
    However it said the prosecutor’s claim has not progressed yet because it had not fulfilled certain administrative requirements, including providing documents supporting the claim.
    Information on the case will next be updated on June 7, it said.
    In 2018, Dolce & Gabbana was forced to cancel a marquee show in China amid a backlash against an advertising campaign that was decried as racist by celebrities and on social media and led to Chinese e-commerce sites boycotting the label’s products.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow and Silvia Aloisi in Milan; Editing by Jan Harvey)

5/24/2021 Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine Highly Effective Against Brazil Virus Variant by Maximilian Heath
FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist holds a vial of Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus in a
department store in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2021 REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo/File Photo
    BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in fighting off and neutralizing the aggressive coronavirus variant first discovered in Brazil, according to Russia’s Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and a study conducted by researchers in Argentina.
    Brazil’s P1 coronavirus variant, behind a deadly COVID-19 surge in Brazil, has spread throughout hard-hit Latin America.    Scientists in Brazil have found that the variant’s mutations could make it more resistant to antibodies, raising international concern over its potential to render vaccines less effective.
    The Argentina-based study, carried out by the Dr. Vanella Institute of Virology of the National University of Córdoba (UNC), however, found a strong immune response against the variant in those vaccinated with Sputnik V.
    “The study confirmed that the immunity developed in people vaccinated with ‘Sputnik V’ neutralizes the Brazilian strain after having received two doses, and even after the first,” the RDIF said in a statement on Monday.
    According to the Argentine study, viewed by Reuters and cited by RDIF, 85.5% of individuals developed antibodies against the COVID-19 variant on day 14 following the first dose of the vaccine.    That rate rose to nearly 100% by day 42, after an individual had received both doses.
    Rogelio Pizzi, dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the UNC, told Reuters the institute’s study showed that the Russian vaccine successfully inhibits the variant.
    “The results are excellent.    The vaccine works for this strain,” Pizzi told Reuters, adding that the UNC Institute of Virology is also conducting studies on the strain originally detected in the UK.
(Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

5/24/2021 Belarus, Latvia Expel Each Others’ Diplomats As Row Over Journalist’s Arrest Deepens
A historical white-red-white flag of Belarus flies next to national flags of nations participating in
IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus expelled all Latvian diplomats from the country on Monday, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Riga, as an international crisis deepened over the forced landing of a commercial flight in Minsk to arrest a dissident journalist.
    Belarus on Sunday scrambled a warplane to escort a Ryanair passenger jet carrying Roman Protasevich, a journalist critical of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, in an act denounced by Western powers as “state piracy.”
    Belarus’s actions prompted Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics and Martins Stakis, the mayor of Riga, to replace the Belarusian state flag with a historical Belarusian red and white flag – now the symbol of the opposition – in the centre of the Latvian capital, which is hosting the Ice Hockey World Championship.
    Minsk had originally been supposed to co-host the tournament with Riga but was stripped of the right to do so because of political unrest following a contested presidential election last August and the coronavirus pandemic.
    Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said Riga’s move amounted to “practically an act of international vandalism” and called on Latvia to apologise and return his country’s Soviet-inspired green, red and white flag to its original place.
    “For us, such actions directed against a sovereign state and nation are absolutely unacceptable,” the Belta news agency quoted Makei as saying.    “We cannot leave such provocative actions unanswered.”
    Makei said Belarus was allowing only one Latvian administrative and technical staff member to remain in order to look after the embassy building.
    Janis Bekeris, a Latvian foreign ministry spokesman, said the Belarusian move left Riga with no choice but to respond in kind.
    Latvia and other European Union countries have imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials in the wake of a presidential election last year, which the opposition said was massively rigged, and a subsequent crackdown on protesters.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow, and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/24/2021 Ryanair Plane Diverted To Belarus ‘Had To Land There’ – Aviation Experts
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) headquarters
building in Montreal, Quebec, Canada June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
    (Reuters) – The captain of the Ryanair plane intercepted by a Belarusian warplane and forced to land in Minsk after what turned out to be a false bomb threat had little choice but to comply, aviation experts and pilots said.
    The scrambling of a warplane by Belarus to arrest a journalist, Roman Protasevich, has provoked outrage among Western leaders and prompted several airlines to divert flights away from Belarusian airspace.
    “If the interceptor directed the Ryanair flight to Minsk, then they had to land there,” said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot who is now an aviation-safety consultant.
    “Pilots are trained for this, and there are internationally-agreed signals between the interceptor and the airliner,” he said, adding that pilots carry drawings or descriptions of the intercept signals with them on every flight.
    In the event of a bomb threat aboard, pilots would adhere to instructions on where to land and assume that the intercepting aircraft was there to help.
    “You don’t question the intention (of an interception) because the assumption is that they’re there on your behalf,” said one pilot at a European airline.
    “It’s their airspace and you don’t start a discussion with a MiG-29,” said another pilot, referring to the military fighter jet which Belarus scrambled to intercept Ryanair’s plane.
    While airlines are required to provide passenger manifests for international travel, pilots are not usually informed of who is on board, aviation experts said.
    The incident has strained a decades-old system of cooperation amid a flare-up of East-West tensions, with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) saying Belarus’ action may have contravened the Chicago Convention, a core aviation treaty.
    “We strongly condemn any interference or requirement for landing of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law,” the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Monday and called for an investigation.
    But the practicalities of organising such a probe are unclear as aviation, though highly regulated nationally and supported by globally harmonised rules to keep skies safe, lacks a global policeman to avoid constant disputes over sovereignty.
    Meanwhile, lawyers said any probe or legal claim would also have to plough through a tangle of jurisdictions typical of liberalised air travel: a Polish-registered jet flown by an Irish group between EU nations Greece and Lithuania, over non-EU Belarus.
(Reporting by Josesphine Mason, Alexander Cornwell, Tracy Rucisnki, David Shepardson; additional reporting by Conor Humphries; writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Grant McCool)

5/24/2021 Vilnius University Says Its Student Travelling With Protasevich Also Detained, Demands Release by Andrius Sytas
Student Sofia Sapega poses for a picture in Gothenburg, Sweden, in this undated photo taken in 2019. Sapega and Belarusian
opposition activist and blogger Roman Protasevich were detained by Belarusian authorities after a forced landing of
Ryanair Flight 4978 flying from Athens to Vilnius in Minsk on May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – A Belarusian university in Vilnius on Monday said its student Sofia Sapega, 23, who was travelling with journalist Roman Protasevich, had also been detained when their flight was diverted there from Vilnius and demanded her release.
    The detention of Sapega was confirmed by her family, the European Humanities University (EHU) spokesman told Reuters.
    The university spokesman said Sapega and Protasevich had been on vacation in Greece together.
    In what was described by some EU leaders as a hijacking, the passenger plane flying from Athens to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, escorted there by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet.    On its landing, authorities took opposition-minded journalist Protasevich into custody.
    A Lithuanian passenger, who gave his name only as Mantas, said on hearing the news the plane was being diverted Protasevich opened an overhead locker, pulled out a laptop computer and a phone and gave them to a female companion.    On landing, Protasevich was immediately separated, Mantas said.
    Sapega, who is a Russian citizen, was flying to Vilnius to defend her Master’s thesis at the university to graduate from her five-year course, the university said in a statement.
    “As a result of a cover operation by the Belarusian authorities, the student was detained by the Administration of the Investigative Committee for the city of Minsk on groundless and made-up conditions,” the statement said.
    “We protest against the unjustified detention of the member of EHU community,” it added.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Michael Perry)

5/24/2021 Belarus Points To Hamas Bomb Threat In Plane Diversion, Hamas Rejects Claim
A historical white-red-white flag of Belarus flies next to national flags of nations participating
in IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus said on Monday that a false bomb threat that prompted a passenger plane to be diverted to Minsk where authorities arrested a journalist on board, was written in the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
    Authorities released what they said was a text of the bomb alert as officials sought to defuse a mounting international outcry over what Western capitals have denounced as an act of “state piracy.”
    Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied his group had any knowledge or connection.
    Minsk scrambled a warplane to escort a Ryanair flight on Sunday, flagging a bomb alert that proved false once the plane had made an unscheduled landing in Belarus where authorities arrested Roman Protasevich, a journalist critical of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
    Western governments are threatening new sanctions against the former Soviet republic led by authoritarian Lukashenko over the diversion of the flight from Greece to Lithuania as it flew through Belarusian air space.
    In Minsk, the foreign ministry’s spokesman said Belarus had acted in line with international regulations and a senior transport official read out what he said was the text of the bomb threat.
    “We, the soldiers of Hamas, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip.    We demand that the European Union withdraw its support for Israel in this war,” said the head of the transport ministry’s aviation department.
    “There is a bomb on that plane.    If you do not comply with our demands, the bomb will explode over Vilnius on 23 May,” he said.
    Hamas spokesman Barhoum said the group “has nothing to do with that completely.”
    The Palestinian militants and Israel are in the fourth day of a ceasefire after 11 days of hostilities, the worst outbreak in fighting between Israel and Hamas in years.
    “We don’t resort to these methods, which could be the doing of some suspicious parties that aim to demonise Hamas and foil the state of world sympathy with our Palestinian people and their legitimate resistance,” the Hamas spokesman said.
    Igor Golub, head of the Belarusian air force, said that the Ryanair crew took the decision to divert to Minsk itself and that the fighter jet was sent to escort it only after it turned to fly towards the Belarusian capital.
    The Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman said Minsk would guarantee full transparency in the case and would also be prepared to allow foreign experts to be involved in an investigation.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; editing by Grant McCool)

5/24/2021 Danish Man On Trial In Finland For 1987 Ferry Attack On Two German Students by Essi Lehto
The trial of a Danish man (blue suit) suspected of murder and attempted murder of a German couple aboard Viking Sally ferry in the
summer of 1987 started at the Southwest district court in Turku, Finland May 24, 2021. Lehtikuva/Roni Lehti via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – A 52-year-old Danish man went on trial in a Finnish court on Monday charged with the 1987 murder and attempted murder of two German backpackers, who were beaten with a hammer while sleeping on the open-air deck of a passenger ferry.
    Klaus Schelkle, 20, and Bettina Taxis, 22, were travelling from the Swedish capital Stockholm to Turku, in Finland, when prosecutors said the attack took place in Finnish waters.
    The students were airlifted to hospital where Schelkle was pronounced dead.    Taxis survived but has no memory of the attack.
    The prosecutor is seeking life imprisonment for the Danish man, who court documents say was 18 years old at the time and travelling to a Mormon scout camp in Finland.    The Danish man has denied the allegations.
    The ship where the attack took place – the Viking Sally – was later sold to an Estonian shipping company and operated under the name Estonia.    It sank in 1994 in a storm on the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people.    The trial is expected to last a week.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Michael Kahn and Alex Richardson)

5/24/2021 Belgium Wants ‘Severe’ Response From EU Over Belarus Forced Landing by Sabine Siebold and Gabriela Baczynska
European Council President Charles Michel attends a face-to-face EU summit in
Brussels, Belgium, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgium said on Monday international sanctions against Belarus over the grounding of a civilian flight should be “swift and severe” as European Union leaders gathered to discuss airspace restrictions on top of other punishments.
    EU leaders, as well as the United States, strongly condemned Belarus over Sunday’s incident during which Minsk scrambled a warplane and forced a Ryanair jetliner to land to arrest a dissident, Roman Protasevich, who had been on board.
    “The reaction should be swift and be severe,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of talks among all 27 national EU leaders from 1700 GMT.
    He said a fourth package of EU sanctions aimed at Belarus and targetting the financial sector should be brought forward and the bloc “should also do something related to civilian aviation.”
    Three Baltic states said Belarusian airspace should be declared “unsafe” and that the EU should close its airspace to Belarusian flights.    Poland wants to suspend all flights between the EU and Belarus until Protasevich walks free.
    Summit chairman Charles Michel said the incident was “an international scandal” and hope the 27 would agree sanctions on Monday, which require unanimity of all EU countries and often take weeks to prepare.
    A Latvian airline, airBaltic, became the first to announce it would no longer use Belarusian air space, while France and Ireland said air traffic restrictions could be part of the EU’s response.
    But it was not immediately clear whether that would amount to a legal ban, who would institute or police it, or what the exact costs would be.
    The European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said it was working to help airlines avoid Belarusian air space if they wished.    It said around 2,500 flights using EU airspace took off from, landed in or overflew Belarus in the week to May 19.
    Germany demanded explanations from Minsk but there has been no word yet from Berlin on any air traffic restrictions.
    France’s minister for Europe, Clement Beaune, called the plane’s forced diversion “an act of state piracy that cannot be left unpunished,” and proposed tougher sanctions against Belarus.
    Italy on Monday summoned the Belarusian ambassador and said Minsk “will be called to account.”
    The summit of EU leaders would likely decide to tighten sanctions already in place against Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for 27 years and stands accused of grave human rights violations.
    The EU has blacklisted 88 individuals and seven companies accused of “repression and intimidation” of people protesting against Lukashenko’s victory in a contested presidential election last year.
Lukashenko denies election fraud and Belarusian authorities have described the actions of law enforcement agencies as adequate and necessary.
    The sanctions include a ban on travel to the EU and the freezing of any assets held in the bloc, including by Lukashenko and his son.
    “We could extend these sanctions to other officials,” Beaune said, suggesting an airspace ban would be “reasonable protective measure because Europeans’ lives were put at risk.”
    The Brussels-based EU executive on Monday summoned the Belarusian ambassador, called for the immediate release of Protasevich and an international investigation into the incident.
    The EU has so far trod warily on imposing sanctions on Belarus because of the risk that it would push Lukashenko into even closer ties with Russia.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska, Additional reporting by Laurence Frost and Blandine Henault, writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Giles Elgood, Timothy Heritage and Toby Chopra)

5/24/2021 Global Aviation System Tested By Belarus Jetliner Diversion by Tim Hepher and Conor Humphries
A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus,
where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas
    PARIS (Reuters) -Global aviation faces its biggest political crisis in years after Belarus scrambled a fighter and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to detain a dissident journalist, prompting U.S. and European outrage.
    Some European airlines immediately began avoiding Belarus airspace, a key corridor between western Europe and Moscow and route for long-haul flights between western Europe and Asia.
    “We, like all the European airlines are looking for guidance today from the European authorities and from NATO,” Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary told Ireland’s Newstalk radio.
    Others, including Chinese and Turkish carriers, continued to fly over Belarus, which charges euro-denominated fees to use its airspace.    Each flight brings Minsk revenue equivalent to some $500, adding up to millions each year, a Belarus official said.
    The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it had notified its 31 member states about the incident and an airline source said the agency had recommended “caution” over Belarus.
    Aviation experts said a decades-old system of cooperation now faces a crucial test under the glare of East-West tensions.
    The U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the incident may have contravened a core aviation treaty: part of the international order created after World War Two.
    “ICAO is strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention,” it said on Sunday.
    The Montreal agency called a meeting of its 36-member council, which has power to investigate any situation that may hinder the development of international aviation, for Thursday.
    “It looks like a gross abuse of the (Chicago) Convention.    It’s piracy,” Kevin Humphreys, a former Irish aviation regulator, said of the Belarus incident.
    But experts cautioned that calls from some Western politicians for the outright closure of Belarus airspace would come up against tough obstacles.
    Under global rules, neither ICAO nor any nation can close another’s airspace, but some, such as the United States, have the power to tell their own airlines not to fly there.
    Global airlines condemned any unlawful interference.
    “A full investigation by competent international authorities is needed,” said the International Air Transport Association, which represents about 280 airlines.    Ryanair is not a member.
    It was not immediately clear how any probe would be organised.
    Although highly regulated at a national level, and supported by harmonised rules to keep skies safe, aviation lacks a global policeman to avoid constant disputes over sovereignty.
    While it has no regulatory power, ICAO sits at the centre of a system of safety and security standards that operates across political barriers but requires an often slow-moving consensus.
    The rules are managed through the Montreal-based agency by its 193 members, including Belarus.
    ICAO was thrown into discord over a wave of hijackings in the 1980s.    Back then, the issue was whether to oblige countries to agree to let hijacked aircraft land on their soil.
    Humphreys said it would be the first time in memory that the agency has had to ponder accusations that one of its own member countries had carried out what Ryanair’s O’Leary called “state-sponsored hijacking.”
    Belarus insisted the alert was not a hoax and said its controllers had only issued “recommendations” to Ryanair pilots.
    Russia accused the West of hypocrisy, citing the case of a Bolivian presidential plane forced to land in Austria in 2013 or a Belarus jetliner ordered to land in Ukraine three years later.
    In 2013, Bolivia said President Evo Morales’ plane had been diverted over suspicions that former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, wanted by Washington for divulging secret details of U.S. surveillance activities, was on board.
    But aviation experts said the freedoms extended to civil airliners do not apply to presidential or state aircraft, which need special permission to enter another country’s airspace.
    In the 2016 incident, Belarus national carrier Belavia said it had demanded compensation from Ukraine.
    Lawyers say any probe or legal claim would also have to plough through a tangle of jurisdictions typical of liberalised air travel: a Polish-registered jet flown by an Irish group between EU nations Greece and Lithuania, over non-EU Belarus.
    Under the 1944 Chicago Convention, each country has sovereignty over its own airspace, though the treaty prohibits any use of civil aviation that may endanger safety.
    But the right to overfly other countries is contained in a side treaty called the International Air Services Transit Agreement, of which Belarus is not a member.
    A separate 1971 treaty that includes Belarus outlaws the seizure of aircraft or knowingly communicating false information in a way that endangers aircraft safety.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Conor Humphries; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Laurence Frost, Susan Heavey, David Shepardson, Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Diane Craft, Alex Richardson and Mark Potter)

5/24/2021 Belarus Forces Airliner To Land And Arrests Opponent, Sparking U.S. And European Outrage by Andrey Ostroukh and Andrius Sytas
Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, who is accused of participating in an unsanctioned protest at the
Kuropaty preserve, arrives for a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus April 10, 2017. Picture taken April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday and then detained an opposition-minded journalist who was on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States.
    In what was described by some EU leaders as a hijacking, the passenger plane flying from Athens to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, escorted there by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet.    On its landing, authorities took journalist Roman Protasevich into custody.
    Protasevich had his head in his hands and was shaking when he realised the flight was headed for Minsk, Lithuania’s Delfi news outlet said, quoting a passenger.    Later, as he was led away, according to the report, he remarked: “I’ll get the death penalty here.”    Reuters could not verify the report.
    The 26-year-old journalist worked for Poland-based online news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year via the Telegram messenger app at a time when it was hard for foreign media to do so.
    Protasevich who now works for a different Telegram channel called Belamova, is wanted in Belarus on extremism charges and stands accused of organising mass riots and of inciting social hatred, allegations he denies.
    Data from the website showed the plane was diverted just two minutes before it was due to cross into Lithuanian airspace.    After seven hours on the ground, the plane took off and finally landed in Vilnius where Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte was waiting to meet the passengers.
    As European officials threatened new sanctions on Belarus, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the forced landing and arrest a “shocking act,” demanded Protasevich’s immediate release and said President Joe Biden’s administration was “coordinating with our partners on next steps.”
    EU member state Lithuania, where Protasevich is based, urged the European Union and NATO to respond.
    Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive European Commission, said Protasevich must be released immediately and that those responsible for “the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned,” adding EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Monday would discuss what action to take.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet that the incident was serious and dangerous and required an international investigation.
    Simon Coveney, foreign minister of Ireland, where Ryanair is based, said on Twitter: “EU inaction or indecision will be taken as weakness by Belarus.”
    Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said he discussed the Ryanair plane diversion with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker, urging a strong response from the West.
    The United States along with the EU, Britain and Canada have already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, following an August election that opponents and the West say was a sham.
    U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez issued a statement with the heads of seven European parliamentary foreign affairs panels denouncing the forced landing as “an act of piracy.”    They called for a ban on all overflights of Belarus, including to and from the country, and for NATO and EU states to impose sanctions and suspend Belarus’ “ability to use Interpol.”
    Blinken demanded a “full investigation” of an action he said endangered the lives of the passengers, including U.S. citizens.
    “Given indications the forced landing was based on false pretenses, we support the earliest possible meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review these events,” he said in a statement.
    Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who like Protasevich now operates from Lithuania, called on the U.N. aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to kick Belarus out.
    ICAO said it was “strongly concerned” over the incident, which might have breached the Chicago Convention underpinning civil aviation.    Global airline industry body IATA also called for a full investigation.
    The incident is certain to worsen already dire relations between the West and Belarus, which has been tightly controlled since 1994 by Lukashenko.
    Opponents accuse him of rigging a presidential election in his own favour last year and of then cracking down violently on the opposition.    He denies electoral fraud.
    Ryanair said in a statement that the plane’s crew was notified by Belarus of a potential security threat on board and was instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk.
    The plane landed safely, passengers were offloaded, security checks were made by local authorities and the aircraft later resumed its journey to Vilnius, Ryanair said.
    One of the passengers, speaking to Reuters after arriving at Vilnius airport, said neither the pilot nor the crew gave a full explanation for the sudden diversion to Minsk, but Protasevich reacted quickly to the news, standing up from his seat.
    The Lithuanian passenger, who gave his name only as Mantas, said Protasevich opened an overhead locker, pulled out a laptop computer and a phone and gave them to a female companion. On landing, Protasevich was immediately separated, Mantas said.
    Belarusian officials with sniffer dogs searched the luggage of each passenger, including Protasevich, but appeared to find nothing.    “It looked fake,” Mantas said of the bomb-detection operation.
    Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told a news conference late on Sunday that Protasevich’s female companion had also not re-embarked on the flight from Minsk to Vilnius.
    Belarusian news agency BelTA reported that Lukashenko had personally ordered the warplane to escort the Ryanair plane to Minsk.    No explosives were found, it said.
    Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, said the air defenses of Belarus were closely integrated with those of Russia.    “If you had anything happening in the Belarus airspace, it would be impossible for the Kremlin – or at least Russian military forces – not to know about it,” he said.
    Nauseda urged “NATO and EU allies to immediately react to the threat posed to international civil aviation by the Belarus regime.”
    Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgiryte said the operation to force the plane carrying around 170 people from 12 countries to land seemed to be pre-planned.
    The Belarusian department for organised crime control reported that Protasevich had been detained, before deleting the statement from its Telegram channel.
    About 35,000 people have been detained in Belarus since August, human rights groups say.    Dozens have received jail terms.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Andrea Shalal and Mark Bendeich; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Peter Cooney)

5/24/2021 EU Leaders Agree To Pile More Sanctions On Belarus Over Ryanair Incident
A general view of the conference room for the EU summit meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders agreed on Monday to impose more sanctions on Belarus, including economic ones, called on their airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and authorised work to ban Belarusian airlines from European skies and airports, a spokesman said.
    Meeting in Brussels, the 27 national leaders of the bloc demanded an immediate release of dissident Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, as well as an investigation by the International Organization for Civilian Aviation into a Sunday incident during which Belarus forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk.
    They expressed solidarity with their peer Latvia after it said it was expelling the Belarusian ambassador and all diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to Minsk, which had told the Baltic state’s envoy to leave.
    Foreign and other EU ministers will now be tasked with formalising these political decisions announced by Barend Leyts, spokesman for EU summit chairman Charles Michel, after two hours of talks at a summit in Brussels.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by John Chalmers)

5/24/2021 Five Passengers Did Not Reach Vilnius After Forced Belarus Landing by Andrius Sytas and Nerijus Adomaitis
An animated graphic shows the flightpath of Ryanair Flight 4978, flying from Athens to Vilnius and carrying Belarusian opposition
activist and blogger Roman Protasevich, diverting and landing in Minsk, Belarus May 23, 2021. FLIGHTRADAR24.COM/Handout via REUTERS
    VILNIUS (Reuters) -Five passengers on board a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius that was intercepted by a Belarusian warplane and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday did not reach their final destination, Lithuanian officials said on Monday.
    Belarus’s action, which resulted in the detention of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich who had been on board, drew international condemnation.
    A spokeswoman for the Lithuanian prime minister said the latest information available from Ryanair suggested 126 passengers had departed the Greek capital and 121 were present on arrival in Lithuania.
    Earlier comments by Lithuanian officials put the number of passengers at between 123 and 127, plus crew.    None of the officials commented on the identity of the passengers who remained in Minsk.
    “Ryanair corrected the stated passenger numbers three times to us.    The latest correction is that 126 passengers left Athens and 121 landed in Vilnius.    This does not include the crew of six,” spokeswoman Rasa Jakilaitiene told Reuters.
    Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said on Monday he believed security agents had been on the flight and had also disembarked in Minsk.
    That would mean the operation had effectively been coordinated with spies operating on the ground in Greece.
    A Belarusian university in Vilnius said one of its students, Sofia Sapega, 23, who had been travelling with Protasevich, had also been detained in Minsk.    The university demanded her release.
    Lithuanian police are questioning the passengers who later disembarked in Vilnius after the flight finally reached its destination, and are examining the aircraft, the chief of criminal police, Rolandas Kiskis, told reporters.
    The investigation could take months, Lithuania’s deputy general prosecutor said.
    The Lithuanian government advised its citizens to refrain from travelling to Belarus and urged those currently in the country to leave immediately.    It has also told aircraft using Vilnius airport to avoid Belarusian airspace.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas and Nerijus Adomaitis, writing by Alan Charlish and Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones)

5/24/2021 Location Of Belarusian Journalist Removed From Plane Still Unknown – Tsikhanouskaya by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, who is accused of participating in an unsanctioned protest
at the Kuropaty preserve, arrives for a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – The whereabouts of a Belarusian dissident journalist remain unknown after he was removed from a Ryanair passenger plane that was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday, Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday.
    Western countries denounced Minsk’s action as “state piracy” and European leaders threatened on Monday to limit international air traffic over Belarus and possibly restrict its ground transport.
    They called for the immediate release of the 26-year-old journalist and blogger, Roman Protasevich, who had been travelling from Greece to Lithuania.
    “We still don’t know where he (Protasevich) is, and in what state.    There is a high probability that he is undergoing torture by the special services at this very minute,” Tsikhanouskaya told reporters in Vilnius.
    Protasevich’s female companion, Sofia Sapega, who was also detained in Minsk on Sunday, is now in the Okrestina prison in the Belarusian capital, Tsikhanouskaya said, citing reports from her relatives.
    Sapega is a Russian citizen but the Russian consul in Minsk refused to help her, Tsikhanouskaya said.
    Tsikhanouskaya has been based in Vilnius since fleeing Belarus following a disputed presidential election last August which her supporters say was stolen from her.
    She said on Monday she was discussing the detention of Protasevich with a representative of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/24/2021 Biden And Putin To Have Summit In Geneva Soon, Swiss Daily Says
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a virtual conference in
Moscow, Russia, April 22, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    ZURICH (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will meet in Switzerland for their first summit, newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported on Monday, citing “reliable sources.”
    An advance U.S. mission has already arrived in Geneva for that purpose, the newspaper added.    Plane spotters reported on Twitter seeing an unusual U.S. cargo aircraft landing at the city’s airport on Sunday.
    The Tages-Anzeiger said the time and venue of a Biden-Putin meeting remains unclear though it would likely take place in Geneva in the next few weeks.
    There was no immediate official comment from Washington or Moscow.    Their relations have deteriorated amid tensions over a recent Russian military buildup near Ukraine and concerns about Moscow’s treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    But U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Russian Security Council secretary Nikolay Patrushev held talks in Geneva on Monday as part of preparations for a possible summit, the Russian news agency Tass quoted the Council as saying.
    The Russian daily Kommersant last week mentioned Geneva as the most likely location for a summit.
    Biden said earlier this month he expected to meet Putin soon, adding that ongoing differences between the two countries would not need to be resolved in advance of a summit.
    The Biden administration would like to add a summit with Putin in a third country while the U.S. president is in Europe in mid-June for a Group of Seven meeting in Britain and talks with NATO allies in Brussels.
    In the latest incident souring Western-Russian relations, a warplane dispatched by Kremlin ally Belarus intercepted a Ryanair flight between Greece and Lithuania and forced it down in Minsk, where a dissident journalist aboard was arrested.
    The Swiss Foreign Ministry declined comment on the Tages-Anzeiger report but said Switzerland would be prepared to offer “its good offices when they are useful and desired,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
    Switzerland has hosted such summits before.    In 1985, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva what became a turning point towards the end of the Cold War, leading to other summits in Iceland and Washington.
(Reporting by John Revill in Zurich and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/25/2021 Airlines Start Shunning Belarus, Opposition Leader Says Journalist Tortured by Matthias Williams and Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, who is accused of participating in an unsanctioned protest
at the Kuropaty preserve, arrives for a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    KYIV/VILNIUS (Reuters) -Airlines shunned Belarus’s airspace on Tuesday and Belarusian planes faced a possible ban from Europe as international outrage mounted over Minsk forcing down a jetliner and arresting a dissident journalist who was on board.
    A video released overnight showed 26-year-old Roman Protasevich confessing to having organised anti-government demonstrations.    On Sunday he was pulled off a flight from Greece to Lithuania forced down in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the video made for “distressing viewing” and Belarus would face consequences.    Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said it proved Protasevich had been tortured.
    “He said that he was treated lawfully, but he’s clearly beaten and under pressure.    There is no doubt that he was tortured.    He was taken hostage,” she told a news conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
    Belarus did not immediately comment on the torture allegation but has consistently denied abusing detainees.    Rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of what they describe as abuse and forced confessions during a crackdown on pro-democracy activists since last year.
    France and Ireland have described the incident as piracy.    On Tuesday NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called it a “state hijacking.”
    In response to Minsk’s actions, the European air traffic control agency, Eurocontrol, recommended that EU and British carriers that fly over Belarus should re-route via the Baltic states.
    Underlining the EU’s desire to show support for opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would like the Belarusian opposition to be invited to meet Group of Seven leaders at a summit in Britain next month. London did not immediately respond.
    Belarusian state media have reported that Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted.    Belarus says it was responding to a bomb scare that later proved to be a false alarm.    The U.N. agency ICAO has said the incident may have violated the foundational treaty governing international civil aviation, the 1944 Chicago Convention.
    Protasevich and a 23-year-old student travelling with him were arrested, and three other people disembarked the flight in Minsk, suspected by Western countries of being spies involved in the operation.
    They were interviewed on Belarus state TV, which identified them as two Belarusians and a Greek.    All three said they had asked to disembark because they planned to travel to Minsk anyway once the plane reached Vilnius.
    European Union leaders at a summit on Monday called for airlines based in the 27-member bloc to halt flights over Belarusian airspace, which is along a major corridor connecting Europe and Asia and earns hard currency from overflight rights.
    Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Air France, LOT and Singapore Airlines were among carriers that announced they would stop flying over Belarus.
    The EU leaders also directed officials to draw up unspecified new sanctions against Belarus, and to work out a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc’s skies.
    Belarus’s neighbour, Ukraine, also announced a ban on flights to or from Belarus, and on its own airlines using Belarusian airspace.    That could mean land-locked     Belarus could soon be reached by air only over its eastern border with close ally Russia.
    “If we let this go, tomorrow Alexander Lukashenko will go further and do something even more arrogant, more cruel,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement.
    Lukashenko, whose security services crushed months of pro-democracy demonstrations last year after an election opponents said was rigged, has so far shrugged off Western sanctions, which mostly consist of blacklists barring various officials from travelling or doing business in the United States and EU.
    Politicians in the West have called for tougher measures.    But they have failed to influence the behaviour of Lukashenko, who enjoys unwavering financial and security support from Russia.
    Moscow denied suggestions by Western politicians that it may have assisted its ally Belarus in the operation.    Russia has also accused Western countries of hypocrisy, noting a Bolivian presidential plane was diverted to Austria in 2013 after reports it carried U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
    During Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissent, nearly all opposition figures have been driven into exile or jailed, many on charges of organising demonstrations, which the government describes as terrorism.
    In the video released overnight, Protasevich can be seen seated at a desk in a dark hooded sweatshirt.
    “I can state that I don’t have any health issues, including diseases of the heart or any other organs.    Police officers are treating me properly and according to the law,” he says.    “Also, I now continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to organising mass protests in Minsk.”
    Polish deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski told Reuters by telephone that Protasevich was probably not seriously ill but, citing no evidence beyond what he had seen in the video, said the journalist had “probably” been beaten and tortured.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alex Richardson)

5/25/2021 Macron Wants Belarus Opposition To Join G7 Summit – French Presidency
FILE PHOTO: Flags are placed at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
    PARIS (Reuters) -French President Emmanuel Macron would like to invite the Belarus opposition to the Group of Seven summit due to be held next month in Cornwall, if host country Britain agrees, the French presidency said on Tuesday.
    Western countries are keen to show their support for opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after authorities in Minsk forced down a passenger plane on Sunday and arrested a dissident journalist on board.
    “The president is in favour of that (inviting the Belarusian opposition) if the British agree to it,” a French official said.
    Asked about Macron’s stance, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was not immediately aware of any such proposal to invite the Belarusian opposition, adding: “I think the invite list for the G7 is already set.”
    Macron became the highest-profile Western leader to meet Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhounskaya last September.    Her supporters say she won Belarus’s contested presidential election last August, a claim Lukashenko denies.
    In a tweet on Tuesday, Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, a member state of the European Union that borders Belarus, thanked Macron for his call to have the Belarusian opposition invited to the G7 summit.
    Airlines were shunning Belarusian air space on Tuesday and the country’s planes face a possible European ban following the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk on Sunday and the arrest of 26-year-old journalist Roman Protasevich.
    The G7 groups the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.    Britain holds the G7 rotating presidency this year and has scheduled the summit for June 11-13 in the southwestern English county of Cornwall.
(Reporting by Michel Rose in Paris and Elizabeth Piper in London; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/25/2021 Biden, Putin To Meet In Geneva On June 16 Amid Disputes by Nandita Bose and Susan Heavey
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. economy in the East Room
at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on June 16, the White House and the Kremlin said on Tuesday amid sharp disputes over election interference, cyberatttacks, human rights and Ukraine.
    Earlier this month, Reuters reported that both countries were lowering expectations for big breakthroughs at the superpower summit, with neither in a mood to make concessions on their disagreements.
    “The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
    The Kremlin said in a statement that the two leaders would discuss bilateral ties, problems related to strategic nuclear stability, and other issues including cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 and regional conflicts.
    Biden has previously said he wants Putin to stop trying to influence U.S. elections, stop cyberattacks on U.S. networks emanating from Russia, stop threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty and release jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    The White House has avoided describing Biden as seeking a “reset” in relations with Putin, a term often used by former U.S. presidents as they seek to improve relations with Russia.
    Rather, U.S. officials see the face-to-face meeting as an opportunity to tilt the relationship away from what they see as former President Donald Trump’s fawning overtures to Putin.
    Russian officials told Reuters they view the summit as an opportunity to hear from Biden directly after what a source close to the Russian government said were mixed messages from the U.S. administration that took office on Jan. 20.
    Putin views U.S. pressure on Navalny and its support for pro-democracy activists in Russia and Belarus as tantamount to interfering in Russian domestic affairs.
    Moscow is also unhappy about a raft of U.S. sanctions aimed at Russian entities and individuals – and Biden’s threat of more.
    A former Soviet republic, Belarus maintains close political, economic and cultural ties to Russia and belongs to a Russian-led military alliance.
    One topic likely to come up is Western outrage at Belarus, which scrambled a fighter and flagged what proved to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday in Minsk, where authorities arrested a Belarusian dissident journalist.
    Russia has denied reports that four Russian nationals got off the plane in Minsk, which sparked suspicions of Russian involvement.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Nandita Bose; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Howard Goller)

5/25/2021 Czechs Reappoint Old Health Minister After Losing Four In Eight Months
FILE PHOTO: A woman lights a candle to commemorate all Czech victims of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, May 10, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Health Minister Petr Arenberger resigned on Tuesday after less than two months in office after coming under media scrutiny over property holdings and other business dealings, becoming the fourth health minister to exit in eight months.
    His portfolio, in a country that has suffered one of the world’s highest per capita coronavirus infection rates, is going back to Adam Vojtech, who last September when the epidemic situation deteriorated sharply after a summer of relaxed restrictions.
    With four months to go until an election, the opposition said Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s personnel policy was chaotic, and resembled the medieval Astronomical Clock in Prague’s Old Town Square, which shows rotating statues of saints every hour.
    Vojtech was replaced last year by an epidemiologist and reserve army colonel – who quit after being caught breaking pandemic restrictions by visiting a restaurant.
    Another minister was forced out after disagreements with Babis and under pressure from President Milos Zeman, who had unsuccessfully demanded that the government buy the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
    Arenberger was a Prague hospital director before joining the government on April 7, when the Czech Republic was emerging from its worst COVID-19 wave to date.
    Daily infections have slowed sharply, from peaks of around 17,000 in January and March to the 695 reported on Monday.
    Vaccinations in the country of 10.7 million have accelerated to over 80,000 each weekday, and shops and restaurant terraces have reopened amid a gradual easing of restrictions.
    Arenberger quit after pressure from media reports about the number of properties he owned, one of which was rented to the hospital that he had led.    He had also faced scrutiny over clinical trials at his private clinic and the privatisation of a downtown Prague apartment.
    He has denied wrongdoing.    On Tuesday he said an incorrectly completed asset declaration had probably triggered speculation.
    The Czech Republic has the second highest per capita death toll in the world from the new coronavirus, according to Our World in Data.    As of Tuesday, 30,041 were registered as having died of COVID-19.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/25/2021 Russia Says It Can Now Operate Nuclear Capable Bombers From Syrian Air Base
FILE PHOTO: Russian military jets are seen at Hmeymim air base in Syria, June 18, 2016.
REUTERS/Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry via Reuters/
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had the ability for the first time to operate long-range strategic nuclear-capable bombers from its air base in Syria, expanding its capabilities and allowing such planes to train in new regions.
Russia operates the Hmeymim base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, from which it has launched air strikes in the past in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    The Russian defence ministry said in a statement that three Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bombers had flown to Hmeymim.
    It said runways at the base had been made longer and one of them upgraded allowing Russia to operate aircrafts of all types from the base.
    The three newly arrived bombers would hold training exercises in new geographical areas over the Mediterranean Sea, the defence ministry said, before returning to their permanent airfields in Russia.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/25/2021 How To Keep Wolves Out And Bridge A Cultural Gap – A Swiss Project by Michael Shields and Arnd Wiegmann
Patrizio Decurtins, project director of Pasturs Voluntaris, or Voluntary Shepherds in the region's Romansh language, holds a lamb during a training in the
practical skills to help sheep and goat farmers to protect their flocks by keeping wolves away, in Segnas, Switzerland May 22, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    SEGNAS, Switzerland (Reuters) – City dwellers are learning how to keep wolves at bay in the mountains of eastern Switzerland, helping sheep and goat farmers to protect their flocks whilst also bridging an urban-rural cultural divide over how to deal with the predators.
    Around 100 wolves live in the wild in Switzerland and their numbers are rising.
    A referendum last year on whether to make it easier to shoot wolves deemed a threat to livestock exposed divergent attitudes towards the animals from urban voters keen on protecting wildlife and from rural voters who have to put up with wolves.
    The pro-conservation side won and the relaxation of shooting regulations did not happen, but some people from both sides of the divide are now working together to manage the threat from wolves whilst gaining better mutual understanding.
    Under a programme called Pasturs Voluntaris, or Voluntary Shepherds in the region’s romansh language, city dwellers learn practical skills such as putting up electrified fences in the correct way to keep sheep in and wolves out.
    “The wolf in Switzerland is sometimes a bit of a difficult subject and I decided to come here to the Alps and see what it is really about,” said volunteer Sibylle Sommerer, from Winterthur in the lowlands canton of Zurich.    She had voted against easing rules on shooting wolves.
    She was one of 17 volunteers on a recent weekend, picking up tips such as how to avoid making sharp corners in the fence where an animal might get trapped.
    Marcus Berther, who has 190 sheep and 100 lambs on his farm in the Alpine village of Segnas, was on hand to give instruction.
    “I saw really good people who you could even now call upon for help on the mountain,” he said of the volunteers.
    Berther said he was not afraid of wolves and had never lost an animal to a predator, even though one was seen running through his herd a decade ago. But he added:
    “I think if it continues like this we have to eliminate wolves who cause problems.    It will be nearly impossible to defend the herd.    As soon as the wolf starts to jump over the fence then we farmers no longer have a chance.”
    Patrizio Decurtins, the 26-year-old project director, said the training course aimed to strengthen protection of herds from wolves and other large predators and to extend it throughout the canton of the Grisons.
    “Most of the farmers I have spoken to are happy for the help and accept it gladly.    They really need the help,” he said.
    That was just what freshly trained volunteer Sommerer had in mind.
    “Maybe in the summer if I can go to the Alps with the sheep and some dogs, that would be my wish.    I want to help,” she said.
(Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Estelle Shirbon)

5/25/2021 Poland Dangles Lottery Jackpot To Boost COVID Vaccination Drive
FILE PHOTO: People walk in the city centre as the country's coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
restrictions eased, in Warsaw, Poland May 15, 2021. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will launch a lottery with prizes of as much as 1 million zlotys ($273,000) to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the minister in charge of the immunisation programme said on Tuesday.
    Michal Dworczyk said that although 69% of Poles have declared they want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, the biggest challenge was making sure they do it.
    “We are carrying out another advertising campaign … we have sports people involved, we have actors involved, influencers involved,” Dworczyk told a news conference.
    “Alongside these traditional forms… we are adding this extra proposal.”
    The competition will be run with the aid of state-owned companies and lottery operator Totalizator Sportowy.
    Every 2,000th person taking part in the lottery will win 500 zlotys, with two participants winning one million zlotys and a hybrid car.
    Municipalities will also be encouraged to compete to get the highest vaccination rates, with the first 500 to reach a rate of 75% being awarded 100,000 zlotys.
    The vaccination lottery follows a competition in June which offered fire engines to small municipalities that registered high turnout in the 2020 presidential election.    This initiative met with criticism from opposition politicians, who called it thinly veiled vote-buying.
($1 = 3.6587 zlotys)
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz, editing by Ed Osmond)

5/25/2021 Russia To Make Announcement On Potential Biden-Putin Summit by OAN Newsroom
FILE – Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    Russia has reported it will soon make an announcement about a potential summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.
    During a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow and Washington must cooperate on cybersecurity to stop hackers.    He also emphasized the need to discuss U.S. and Russian relations of regional conflicts as well as strategic nuclear stability.
    “By all means strategic stability and the control over the nuclear weapons will be on the agenda for sure,” Peskov assured.    “…Let’s first wait for the announcement on this matter and discuss the agenda later.”
    The spokesman’s comments followed the White House announcement that the two leaders will meet face to face in Switzerland on June 16.
    Meanwhile, lawmakers have continued to raise concerns over Russia’s state sponsored hacking and have condemned Biden’s decision to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 Russian pipeline.

5/26/2021 Belarus Leader Says Detained Journalist Was Plotting ‘Bloody Rebellion’ by Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during a meeting with parliamentarians, members of the Constitutional Commission
and representatives of public administration bodies, in Minsk, Belarus May 26, 2021. Maxim Guchek/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Wednesday a journalist pulled off a plane that was forced to land in Minsk had been plotting a rebellion, and he accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him.
    In his first public remarks since a Belarusian warplane intercepted a Ryanair flight on Sunday between European Union members Greece and Lithuania, he showed no hint of backing down from confrontation with countries that accuse him of air piracy.
    “As we predicted, our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country changed their methods of attack on the state,” Lukashenko told parliament.
    “They have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals,” he said, referring to a “hybrid war” without giving any details.
    Belarus has been subject to EU and U.S. sanctions since Lukashenko cracked down on pro-democracy protests after a disputed election last year.    But his decision to intercept an international airliner in Belarusian airspace and arrest a 26-year-old dissident journalist has brought vows of much more serious action.
    In his speech to parliament, Lukashenko gave no details of the “bloody rebellion” he accused journalist Roman Protasevich of planning.
    Protasevich, whose social media feed from exile had been one of the last remaining independent sources of news about Belarus, was shown on state TV on Monday confessing to organising demonstrations.
    But Belarus opposition figures dismissed the confession, seeing the video as evidence Protasevich had been tortured, an allegation repeated by his mother, Natalia.
    “I simply plead with all the international community… please, world, stand up and help, I beg you so much because they will kill him,” she told Polish broadcaster TVN.
    Late on Tuesday, state TV broadcast a similar confession video of Sophia Sapega, a 23-year-old student arrested with Protasevich.
    Germany led condemnation of Belarus over the videotapes, which Lukashenko’s opponents said were recorded under coercion.
    “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Belarusian rulers’ practice of parading their prisoners in public with so-called ‘confessions,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
    Belarus denies it mistreats detainees.    Rights groups have documented what they say are hundreds of cases of abuse and forced confessions since last year.
    Europe’s aviation regulator issued a bulletin on Wednesday urging all airlines to avoid Belarus airspace for safety reasons, saying the forced diversion of the Ryanair flight had put in question its ability to provide safe skies.
    Western governments have told their airlines to re-route flights to avoid Belarus’s airspace and have announced plans to ban Belarusian planes.    The European Union says other unspecified sanctions are also in the works.
    Credit rating agency S&P Global signalled it could downgrade Belarus’ credit rating if Western governments impose stronger economic sanctions.
    Lukashenko said he would respond harshly to any sanctions.    His prime minister said the country could ban some imports and restrict transit in response, without giving details.
    Landlocked Belarus is located between its ally Russia and the EU, and some Russian oil and gas flows through it.    Last year, it retaliated for sanctions by limiting some oil export traffic through a port in Lithuania.
    In his remarks to parliament, Lukashenko, 66, said street protests were no longer possible in Belarus.    Most known opposition figures are now in jail or exile.
    In power since 1994, Lukashenko faced weeks of mass protests after he was declared the winner of a presidential election that his opponents said was rigged. The protests lost momentum after thousands of arrests in a police crackdown.
    Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said the opposition was now preparing a new phase of active protests.
    “There’s nothing more to wait for – we have to stop the terror once and for all,” she said.
    Western powers are seeking ways to increase the isolation of Lukashenko, who has previously shrugged off Western sanctions, which mostly consisted of placing officials on black lists. The West is wary of upsetting Moscow, which regards Belarus as a strategically important buffer.
    U.S. President Joe Biden will discuss the incident with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit next month but the White House said it does not believe Moscow played any role in the incident.
    Belarusian authorities on Tuesday released a transcript of a conversation between the Ryanair plane and an air traffic controller.    In it, the controller tells the pilot of a bomb threat and advises him to land in Minsk.    The pilot repeatedly questions the source of the information before agreeing to divert the plane.
    The transcript, which Reuters could not independently verify, differed from excerpts released by Belarus state TV, which reported that the pilot had asked to land in Minsk, rather than that the controller advised him to do so.
    The Ryanair plane remains in the Lithuanian capital’s airport, where it flew after Minsk, while data is collected form it, the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office said.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan)

5/26/2021 Modernisation Of Ties Not Possible With Swiss ‘No’ To EU Trade Treaty Talks – EU
FILE PHOTO: Switzerland's national flag flies beside the one of the European Union in Steinhausen, Switzerland February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission expressed regret on Wednesday at the Swiss government’s decisions to ditch a stalled treaty with the European Union, saying the move would prevent the modernisation of ties and Switzerland’s participation in the EU’s single market.
    The Swiss government decided on Wednesday to ditch a stalled treaty with the European Union amid stiff domestic opposition to a pact that would have simplified and strengthened ties with the country’s biggest trading partner.
    The government concluded that substantial differences remained between Switzerland and the EU on key aspects of the agreement.
    “Without this agreement, this modernisation of our relationship will not be possible and our bilateral agreements will inevitably age: 50 years have passed since the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement, 20 years since the bilateral I and II agreements.    Already today, they are not up to speed for what the EU and Swiss relationship should and could be,” the Commission said in a statement.
    “This is why, back in 2019, the EU insisted that this agreement was so essential for the conclusion of possible future agreements regarding Swiss further participation to the Single Market, and also an essential element for deciding upon further progress towards mutually beneficial market access,” it said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski)

5/26/2021 Swiss Accelerate Economic Re-Opening As COVID-19 Infections Wane
People eat on a terrace during easing of lockdown measures against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, May 5, 2021. Picture taken May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland will allow larger private indoor and outdoor gatherings than originally planned starting on Monday, the government said, as rising vaccinations and falling COVID-19 infections prompt the nation to accelerate its economic re-opening.
    The government said on Wednesday that the improving epidemiological situation would allow for private gatherings of 30 people indoors and 50 outdoors, after saying last week it planned to maintain the limit at 10 people indoors and 15 people outdoors.
    Attendance at public events will also be expanded, to 100 people indoors and 300 outdoors, from current limits of 50 and 100 people, respectively.    No fixed seating plan will be required, as had been originally proposed.
(Reporting by John Miller; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi)

5/26/2021 Ukraine Decries Lack Of Progress In Joining NATO, Wants To Be At Summit
FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba
give a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, April 13, 2021. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Wednesday there had been no progress in NATO’s “open-door” policy to Ukrainian membership and does not understand why it was not invited to the Western military alliance’s summit.
    NATO meets on June 14 in Brussels in the hope of repairing transatlantic ties under U.S. President Joe Biden amid growing tensions with Russia.
    “We understand the desire of the allies to hold a closed summit … but we do not understand how it is possible not to invite Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday, adding that the summit comes amid escalating tension on the Ukrainian-Russian border.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this month called on NATO to strengthen its military presence in the Black Sea region and asked the United States to back Kyiv’s bid for a NATO membership action plan at the summit.
    NATO said in 2008 that Ukraine could potentially become a NATO member in the future.
    Kuleba said Kyiv was grateful to NATO for “constant confirmation of the open-door policy,” but added that not a single step has been taken to implement it.
    “When we in Ukraine are accused of too slow reforms, what can we say about the adoption and implementation of the decisions of the alliance, which have been covered with dust for 13 years?” Kuleba said.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price recently restated U.S. policy of supporting an “open door” to NATO for countries meeting “the standard for membership.”
    But Ukraine, he said, still must “implement the … reforms necessary to build a more stable, democratic, prosperous and free country.”
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/26/2021 Analysis: Pressure Grows For Sensitive Belarus Air Safety Probe by Jamie Freed and Tim Hepher
FILE PHOTO: Airport personnel and security forces are seen on the tarmac in front of a Ryanair flight
which was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021. Handout via REUTERS
    SYDNEY/PARIS (Reuters) – Pressure is growing for an impartial safety probe into the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk, including review of the plane’s black boxes – a move fraught with sensitivities over access to evidence, aviation experts said.
    International condemnation of the scrambling of a fighter jet and the use of what turned out to be a false bomb alert to divert the flight to Minsk and detain a dissident Belarusian journalist has focused mainly on accusations of state-sponsored hijacking and rights violations.
    But Europe’s aviation regulator said on Wednesday that Belarus’s actions had also cast doubt on its ability to provide safe air navigation, and some international officials are pushing for an investigation close to the type seen when a plane crashes or something goes technically wrong.
    Opening such an investigation would test a system of global co-operation that has generally worked smoothly for decades, aviation experts said.
    That’s because under a global protocol called Annex 13 Belarus, as the “state of occurrence,” would have the right to lead any ordinary safety probe with “unrestricted authority” over key evidence such as the plane’s black boxes.
    “The state of occurrence has the lead,” said Michael Daniel, a former U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accident investigator.    “However they are also the prime suspect in this case.”
    A probe would not take place entirely behind closed doors. The United States, where the Boeing 737 was made, and Poland, where it is registered, would be accredited.    And states with passengers on board would have access to some information.
    Lithuania, the destination of the flight from Greece, has said passengers included 94 Lithuanians, nine French citizens and 11 Greeks.    Also on board was Russian citizen Sophia Sapega, the 23-year-old girlfriend of dissident Roman Protasevich, who was detained along with him.
    Her presence on the flight could open the door to observer status for Belarus’ closest ally in any investigation following normal safety probe rules.
    Experts said Sunday’s forcing down of the plane in Belarus was among a handful of extremely rare incidents that have exposed a loophole allowing countries accused of violations in their own airspace to control a probe carried out in the sometimes grey zone between security and safety.
    Last year Iran led an investigation into the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane on its territory, blaming it on the error of a military operator. But Ukraine and Canada criticised the final report and relatives questioned the probe’s impartiality.
    The cockpit voice recorder has the potential to play an important role in any investigation if its two-hour loop retains a recording of communications before landing.
    Belarus released what it said was an extract of the air traffic control transcript on Tuesday, but it differed from extracts previously publicised on Belarusian state TV and also appeared to contradict statements from Minsk airport officials.
    Belarus, which has blamed the diversion on an alleged bomb threat and accused the West of using the episode to wage “hybrid war,” has invited U.S., European and international aviation officials to join it against “acts of unlawful interference.”
    But Europe’s warning could favour a probe on safety grounds.    These fall into categories including “accident” or incident.”
    “It’s definitely a serious incident, when you have air traffic control essentially lying to you to tell you that there is something that’s putting your aircraft at risk but it’s not clear why and you have to follow these aircraft and land here,” said Mark Zee, founder of flight advisory firm OPSGROUP.
    Daniel, the former FAA investigator, said a more international approach than usual was needed to bring “credibility and objectiveness,” as happened after the downing by missile of a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine in 2014.
    In that case, the majority of victims were from the Netherlands, which led the probe with Ukraine’s permission.
    “If the investigation is not going to be able to be freely investigated by the Belarusian authorities – and that seems unlikely given the nature of the event – then you would want some other country,” Zee said.
    “It may be an alliance of states that will say ‘we’ll investigate this to the best of our ability’.”
    Airlines have called for a broad international probe.
    The U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is convening an urgent meeting of its 36-member council, which has some scope for fact-finding investigations, on Thursday.
    “All the aviation authorities will take it seriously because it is unprecedented and it goes to the integrity of the air traffic management system,” aviation lawyer John Dawson said.
    “The whole thing about the air traffic management system is that everything is designed for a safe and efficient way to land an aircraft.    When it becomes political, to get hold of a political opponent, it is obviously counter to that aim.”
(Reporting by Jamie Freed and Tim Hepher; additonal reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Pavel Polityuk, Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/26/2021 Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny Sues Prison For Censoring His Newspapers
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link during a hearing to consider his lawsuits against the
penal colony over detention conditions there, at the Petushki district court in Petushki, Russia May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, speaking in a court appearance via videolink, on Wednesday accused the prison where is being held of censoring his newspapers by cutting out articles.
    He also outlined several other complaints against the prison, including withholding a book and waking him up at night.
    Navalny, an opponent of President Vladimir Putin, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail term for parole violations in what he says were trumped up charges.    He went on hunger strike in late March to demand better medical care for acute leg and back pain.
    He made a rare public appearance on Wednesday via a monitor in the courtroom to pursue two separate lawsuits.    Dressed in full prison attire, he looked gaunt from weight loss but smiled as he appeared on the screen.    He ended his hunger strike last month.
    In lengthy, sarcastic remarks during the hearings he said that he subscribed to several newspapers.
    “And imagine my surprise when I open the newspapers and see that whole articles have been cut out,” Navalny told the court.
    “(My) correspondence is of course censored, I don’t mind the (prison) reading (my) letters.    But why do they cut out articles from newspapers – no one can understand that,” he continued.
    He told the court he would be prepared to drop the lawsuit if the prison promised to stop cutting out articles from the newspaper.
    He also complained the prison had not given him a copy of the Koran, something he said he was legally entitled to as a religious work even though he was not Muslim.
    He also accused the prison of waking him up in the night on the grounds of him being a flight risk, something he said was patently absurd and a reason he had lost seven kilograms in custody before even beginning his hunger strike.
    The prison has said it is acting in accordance with Russian law.
    Navalny has used numerous court appearances over the years to rail against the Russian political system and mock the courts as institutions that do the bidding of the Kremlin, something Russian authorities deny.
(Reporting by Mikhail Antonov; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)

5/27/2021 Belorussian Regime Accuses West Of ‘Hybrid War,’ Says Ryanair Incident A Provocation by OAN Newsroom
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses the Parliament in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Lukashenko is defending his action to divert a European flight that triggered bruising European Union sanctions and accused the West
of waging a “hybrid war” to “strangle” the ex-Soviet nation. (Sergei Shelega/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
    The Lukashenko regime in Belarus has accused Western countries of waging a “hybrid war” against them.
    “Our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country changed their methods of attack on the state,” stated Aleksandr Lukashenko, the country’s president.    “They have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals.    This is not information warfare anymore; this is modern hybrid warfare.”
    On Wednesday, Lukashenko attempted to defend his decision to force land an Irish airliner and the subsequent arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich aboard.    He claimed to be the victim of a provocation by the West and appeared to threaten a military response.
    “We must do everything to prevent it from becoming a real war, they proceeded from organizing riots to strangulation,” continued the Belorussian president.    “The search for new vulnerabilities is underway and it is directed not against us only.    We are a training range, a testing site for them ahead of the march to the East.”
    The European Union and NATO are reportedly planning to issue a new round of sanctions on Belarus.    However, Lukashenko reiterated that he will not release the detained journalist who is now facing death penalty.

5/27/2021 AP: Biden Won’t Rejoin Open Skies Treaty With Russia, NATO Allies by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) attends a video conference meeting as Joe Biden is seen on screen, as part of the virtual US-hosted
Leaders Summit on Climate, in his residence in Moscow, on April 22, 2020. (Photo by ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration has confirmed it will not rejoin the Open Skies Treaty with Russia and top NATO allies, which had once allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries.    Joe Biden’s officials told reporters on Thursday that they have no plans to rejoin that accord ahead of the Biden-Putin summit.
    This comes despite NATO allies Canada, Britain and France, among others continuing mutual arms-control flights with Russia.    One official reportedly said that since Biden had taken office, Russia had demonstrated a complete absence of progress in taking steps to return to compliance regarding the treaty.
    America’s withdrawal from Open Skies means the U.S. military will no longer be able to inspect Russia’s nuclear objects, allowing for ongoing nuclear build up by Moscow.    The announcement comes amid ongoing calls to investigate payments from Moscow to Joe and Hunter Biden.
    Biden has partially lifted sanctions on Russia ahead of the June 16 meeting, stirring concerns of his ties to the Kremlin.    The Biden administration has continued to say how it is seeking a stable and predictable relationship with Moscow.    However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been called out on allegations that the     Russians interfered in the 2020 presidential election and that Kremlin was behind the SolarWinds hacking campaign that targeted at least nine U.S. agencies.

5/27/2021 Reporters Without Borders Holds Protest Against Belarus Blogger Arrest by Janis Laizans and Andrius Sytas
Press advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontiers activists and local journalists hold photos of journalists
detained in Belarus at Salcininkai border crossing point, Lithuania on May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
    SALCININKAI BORDER CROSSING POINT, Lithuania (Reuters) -Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Thursday held a protest against the treatment of journalists by Belarus at the country’s border with Lithuania, while the leader of Belarus opposition in exile called for more protests on Saturday.
    On Sunday Belarus forcibly landed a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius and arrested the opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, who were on board.
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said this week that Protasevich had been plotting a “bloody rebellion.”
    The incident sparked international outrage and calls for sanctions against Belarus.    Minsk accused the West of using the episode to wage “hybrid war.”
    Protasevich was “alive, well,” his lawyer said after meeting him, Russian state news agency RIA reported on Thursday.
    His social media feed from exile had been one of the last remaining independent sources of news about Belarus, a country sandwiched between Russia and the NATO Western security alliance.
    RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire, who headed the protests, told reporters on Wednesday in Vilnius that Belarus’ actions were part of a new way of attacking press freedom and that this was something “not imaginable a few years ago.”
    “In Belarus, there is an institutional hijacking of a plane, just to arrest the journalist,” he said.
    He and a dozen Lithuanian and Belarusian protesters held pictures of journalists jailed in Belarus, including Protasevich.
    Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, who challenged Belarus’ incumbent leader Alexander Lukashenko at the August presidential election and had to leave the country soon after, announced an international act of solidarity with Belarusians on May 29.
    Tikhanouskaya, in Vilnius, called on people to take part in protests with local politicians.
    Lukashenko has said street protests were no longer possible in Belarus.
    Since the crackdown that followed the contested Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus, 430 journalists were arrested and 20 are still in jail in the country, according to the press advocacy group’s count.
    Belarus ranks 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.
(Reporting by Janis Laizans in Salcininkai and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

5/27/2021 EU Sanctions Expected To Hit Belarus’s Potash, Oil And Finance by Victoria Waldersee and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a face-to-face
EU summit in Brussels, May 24, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    LISBON (Reuters) -The European Union will look at hitting Belarus’s big potash exports as well as its oil and financial sectors with new sanctions, as punishment for forcing down a Ryanair flight to arrest a journalist, EU foreign ministers said.
    European leaders have described Sunday’s incident, in which a flight between EU members Greece and Lithuania was pressed to land in Minsk and a 26-year-old exiled dissident and 23-year-old student were arrested, as state piracy.    They have promised to impose serious consequences.
    Foreign ministers gathering in the Portuguese capital on Thursday said they were looking at targeting sectors that play a central role in the Belarus economy, to inflict real punishment on President Alexander Lukashenko.
    “The hijacking of the plane and the detention of the two passengers is completely unacceptable, and we will start discussing implementation of the sectorial and economic sanctions,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Lisbon.
    Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said: “The keyword, I think, is potash.    We know that Belarus produces very much potash, it is one of the biggest suppliers globally, and I think it would hurt Lukashenko very much if we managed something in this area.”
    Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the EU should consider hitting the oil sector, while Germany’s Heiko Maas spoke of measures to target financial transactions, which diplomats said would probably involve preventing the EU from lending to Belarusian banks.
    Maas said Belarusian bond sales could be targeted too.
    “We are talking about using financing means … particularly the question to what extent Belarus should be allowed in future to issue bonds, by the state or the central bank, in Europe,” he told reporters.
    Exports of potash – a potassium-rich salt used in fertilizer – are one of the major sources of foreign currency for Belarus, and state firm Belaruskali says it produces 20 percent of the world’s supply.
    The EU statistics agency said the bloc imported 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) worth of chemicals including potash from Belarus last year, as well as more than 1 billion euros worth of crude oil and related products such as fuel and lubricants.
    So far this week, Europe has already moved to bar its airlines from using Belarus air space and to keep Belarusian planes out of its skies.    But finding a package of sanctions that would change the behaviour of Lukashenko has proven difficult.
    Since cracking down on pro-democracy protests last year, he largely ignored three previous rounds of EU sanctions and comparable U.S. measures, mainly blacklists that bar officials from travelling to or doing business in Europe and the United States.
    Ministers in Lisbon said new sanctions would include a fourth round of travel bans and asset freezes.    They are aiming for agreement on June 21 when they meet in Luxembourg.
    Western countries are demanding free elections in Belarus. Germany’s Maas said sanctions should continue to be tightened, at least until more than 400 political prisoners there are released.
    “As long as this is not the case, the EU cannot relent in paving the way for fresh sanctions,” he said.
($1 = 0.8201 euros)
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon and Sabine Siebold in BerlinWriting by Robin EmmottEditing by Hugh Lawson, Peter Graff, Kirsten Donovan)

5/28/2021 Putin Offers Belarus Leader Support Against West In Ryanair Plane Standoff by Tom Balmforth and Maria Tsvetkova
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko
in Sochi, Russia May 28, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday offered his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko support in his standoff with the West over his handling of the grounding of a passenger jet and the arrest of a dissident blogger.
    The West has accused Belarus of piracy after Belarusian air traffic control on Sunday informed the Ryanair pilot of a hoax bomb threat and Minsk scrambled a MiG-29 fighter plane to escort the jetliner down, and then arrested Roman Protasevich, a blogger and critic of Lukashenko, along with his girlfriend.
    Both are now languishing in jail.    Accused of orchestrating mass riots, Protasevich could be jailed for up to 15 years.
    But Putin, a close ally of Lukashenko, gave his support to Lukashenko, warmly welcoming him for talks in the southern Russian city of Sochi and agreeing with     Lukashenko that the West’s reaction to the incident was “an outburst of emotion.”
    “At one time they forced the Bolivian president’s plane to land and took him out of the plane and nothing, silence,” said Putin, referring to a 2013 incident in which Evo Morales’ plane was forced to land in Austria at a time when the United States was trying to intercept whistleblower Edward Snowden.
    The talks in the Black Sea city of Sochi were organised before the plane incident, but come after many European nations have imposed flight bans on Belarusian aviation and the EU is weighing further sanctions.
    Lukashenko told Putin he would show him some confidential documents about the Ryanair incident that would help the Russian leader understand what really happened.
    “There is always someone who causes problems for us.    You know about them, I’ll inform you,” Lukashenko told Putin.
    “I brought some documents so that you understand what is happening.”
    Looking relaxed and smiling, Putin had earlier suggested the two men take a sea dip, something Lukashenko agreed to.
    Russia, a close ally which sees the ex-Soviet republic of 9.5 million as a strategically important buffer to its west, had offered verbal support to Minsk before the Putin meeting, while dismissing speculation it was itself complicit in the incident.
    Moscow says Belarus has shown a readiness for transparency in the row and has described the West’s reaction to the plane incident as “shocking,” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing it of “demonising” the authorities in Minsk.
    Russia and Belarus, which are formally part of a “union state,” have been in talks for years to further integrate their nations, a process that has long spurred fears among Belarus’s beleaguered opposition that Lukashenko might trade off chunks of sovereignty in return for political backing from the Kremlin.
    Putin told Lukashenko the two men were continuing to build the union state, but were doing so steadily, without haste, and in a low key way.
    In power since 1994, Lukashenko with Russia’s help faced down the biggest protests of his rule last summer over election rigging, allegations that he denied.    The protests lost momentum amid a violent crackdown, but his critics plan to stage new ones.
(editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/28/2021 Kremlin Says It Regrets U.S. Decision To Not Rejoin Open Skies Pact
FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it regretted Washington’s decision not to rejoin the Open Skies arms control pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.
    The original U.S. decision to quit the pact was taken by the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump last year, but Moscow had hoped that Joe Biden would reverse it.
    But on Thursday the United States informed Russia it would not rejoin the pact, accusing Russia of violating it, something Moscow denied.
    Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the pact would lose much of its utility without the participation of Russia and the United States.
    Russia in January announced its own plans to leave the pact, and the government submitted legislation to parliament this month to formalise its departure.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/28/2021 Ryanair Says Belarus Refused Pilot’s Request To Contact Airline
FILE PHOTO: Airport personnel and security forces are seen on the tarmac in front of a Ryanair flight
which was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021. Handout via REUTERS
    DUBLIN (Reuters) – Belarusian air traffic control refused a request by a Ryanair pilot to contact the airline after being told of an alleged bomb threat, leaving him with no alternative but to land in Minsk, the Irish carrier said in a letter seen by Reuters.
    Belarus scrambled a warplane on Sunday and used the bomb alert, which turned out to be fictitious, to divert the flight, which was en route from Greece to Lithuania.    When it landed in Minsk, a dissident journalist and his girlfriend were arrested.
    In a letter to the Belarus transport ministry dated May 26, Ryanair Chief Executive described previous correspondence from Belarusian officials as “false and inaccurate” and said the plane had been “unlawfully diverted under false pretences.”
    “The pilot in command was left with no alternative but to divert to Minsk, when he was advised by Minsk ATC (Air Traffic Control) that there was a credible bomb threat to the aircraft, yet Minsk ATC refused to contact Ryanair, falsely claimed that Ryanair Ops would not answer the phone,” the letter said.
    The pilot repeatedly requested information about the alleged bomb threat before ultimately agreeing to land in Minsk, according to a transcript released on Tuesday by authorities in Belarus.
    Ryanair did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
    Western countries have described the incident, which triggered swift European Union sanctions and an investigation, as a hijacking or air piracy.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/28/2021 World Must Prevent Repeat Of Belarus Incident, Airlines Chief Says
FILE PHOTO: Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA),
attends a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
    PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) -The head of a group representing most global airlines welcomed an international investigation into the forced landing of a Ryanair jetliner in Belarus and said the world must ensure such incidents never happen again.
    “That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and must be strongly condemned.    We must have measures to ensure that can’t happen again,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told Reuters.
    The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on Thursday to investigate the forced grounding.
    Belarus has said it was responding to a bomb threat. Walsh said evidence suggested the threat had been manufactured.
    “I don’t think the world could have just stood back and allowed what happened last Sunday to go by without some form of protest,” Walsh said in an interview.
    Many airlines have since re-routed around Belarus, which straddles a corridor linking western Europe to Moscow, or beyond to Asia.
    The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has advised domestic and foreign airlines to avoid Belarusian air space.
    Asked about the impact on airlines of having to fly around Belarusian air space, Walsh said it was “not unmanageable but difficult” during the pandemic when many long-haul flights have far fewer passengers than usual.
    In a more normal period of demand, route changes can require more fuel which might mean allowing fewer passengers or less cargo on board, he added.
    Any further efforts by Belarus’ closest ally Russia to prevent airlines from using its own air space to bypass Belarus would be more worrying, he said.
    Russia’s federal aviation agency Rosaviatsiya has notified airlines that changes to routes from Europe to Russia due to a political row over Belarus may result in longer clearance times, issues described by the Kremlin on Friday as “technical.”
    The RBC news outlet reported late on Thursday that Russia would allow European flights to arrive and depart via routes that bypass Belarusian airspace despite Moscow previously denying access to two carriers that skirted Belarus en route to Moscow.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Laurence Frost, Sarah Young; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich)

5/28/2021 Russia Says U.S. Decision Not To Rejoin Open Skies Arms Pact Is ‘Political Mistake’
FILE PHOTO: Russian and U.S. state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region
Russia March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia said on Friday a U.S. decision not to rejoin the Open Skies arms control pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member states, is a “political mistake” ahead of a summit between the countries’ presidents.
    The original U.S. decision to quit the pact was taken last year by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, but Moscow had hoped his successor Joe Biden would reverse it.
    On Thursday, however, the Biden administration informed Moscow that it would not re-enter the pact, accusing Russia of violating it, something Moscow denied.
    Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said on Friday that Washington’s move was a missed opportunity to bolster security in Europe.
    “The U.S. has made another political mistake, inflicting a new blow to the European security system,” TASS quoted him as saying.    “We gave them a good chance, which they did not take. They continue circulating fabrications about Russia’s violations of this agreement, which is completely absurd.”
    Separately, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow regretted the U.S. decision, saying the Open Skies accord would lose much of its utility without the participation of Russia and the United States.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Biden are due to hold a summit in Geneva next month and Ryabkov was cited as saying that the U.S. refusal to rejoin Open Skies did not create an atmosphere conducive to arms control discussions at the summit.
    In January, Russia announced its own plans to leave the pact, and the government submitted legislation to parliament this month to formalise its departure.
    At that time, a Kremlin spokesman said one reason was that the United States was still able to receive information acquired via the treaty from its NATO allies.
    U.S. officials have said Russia has violated the pact’s terms by restricting U.S. overflights of Russia’s neighbour Georgia and the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast. Russia denies committing any violations.
    The treaty, which was signed in 1992 and took effect in 2002, allows countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed surveillance flights over the entire territory of other parties and collect information on one another’s military forces.
    Its objective is to increase transparency and build confidence among countries.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Alexander Marrow and Dmitry Antonov; writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)

5/28/2021 Czechs To Fully Reopen Restaurants, Bars, Admit Some Foreign Tourists
FILE PHOTO: A clock showing the time at noon is pictured on a building, next to almost empty streets at Old Town Square during
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) -Czech restaurants, bars and nightclubs can serve customers indoors from Monday, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said, announcing a quicker-than-planned easing of COVID-19 restrictions following a court ruling.
    The Czech Republic will also open up to tourists from some European and overseas countries who have at least had their first COVID-19 shot, effective Tuesday.
    The Czech government, which has been battling one of the world’s most severe second waves of the pandemic, had planned to open indoor facilities from mid-June.
    But last week the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that blanket restrictions on restaurants were illegal, acting on a complaint filed by a customer.
    “I am not entirely happy that we have to make such a radical easing in one moment.    If it were not for the court ruling, then I would suggest sticking to the June 14 date (planned for reopening),” Vojtech told a televised news conference on Friday.
    Restaurants have been allowed to serve customers outdoors since May 17. Schools have also reopened.
    From Monday, swimming pools, saunas and casinos will also be allowed to reopen, while the numbers allowed at shows and sports events will rise.
    For restaurants, self-tests for COVID-19 will suffice, while for all other venues that are allowed to reopen people will have to get tested professionally, Vojtech said.
    As of Tuesday, the country will let in vaccinated visitors from Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany, as well as Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.    Croatia should join the list too, but the deal has yet to be finalised, the foreign ministry said.
    As of Friday morning, the seven-day number of reported cases per 100,000 dropped to 34.    Earlier this year, the Czech Republic had one of the highest per capita COVID-19 infection and death rates in the world.
    The number of daily vaccinations has reached around 100,000.    The country of 10.7 million has distributed 5 million doses of vaccines in total so far, and 1.37 million people have now received two doses.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller, writing by Jason Hovet; editing by Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie)

5/28/2021 Croatia To Buy 12 French Dassault Rafale Fighter Jets
FILE PHOTO: French Navy Rafale fighter jets are seen onboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier,
currently moored at the port of Limassol, Cyprus February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stefanos Kouratzis
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia will buy 12 French Dassault Rafale fighter jets to modernise its air force in a deal worth 999 million euros ($1.22 billion), Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Friday.
    Other bids in the process included those from the United States, Sweden and Israel.
    Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the European Union in 2013. Its air force has a squadron of Russian-made MiG-21 jets dating from the period of the former Yugoslavia, but they are outdated and only a few are still operational.
    “The life-span of our MiG-21 jets expires in 2024,” Plenkovic said.
($1 = 0.8211 euros)
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; editing by Nick Macfie)

5/28/2021 Ukraine Says Belarus Has Imposed Trade Barriers In Plane Row
FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to
Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas
    KYIV (Reuters) – Belarus, under global pressure after it forced a Ryanair plane carrying an opposition journalist to land in Minsk, is to introduce “discriminatory” trade barriers against a range of goods from Ukraine, a Ukrainian deputy minister said on Friday.
    Ukraine this week banned flights to and from Belarus, following the forced landing of the flight from Greece to Lithuania at the weekend and the arrest of a dissident Belarusian journalist on board.
    Deputy economy minister Taras Kachka said on Facebook new six-month licences would be required for the import of Ukrainian goods which would come into force in 10 days.
    They would apply, among other things, to confectionery, beer, chipboard, wallpaper, toilet paper, packaging, bricks, ceramic tiles, agricultural machinery, washing machines and furniture.
    “Such actions are unjustified and discriminatory. Individual licensing regime means manual control of the import of Ukrainian products to Belarus,” he said.
    Kachka said the government was talking to producers to try to reduce the negative effects of the licences.
    Ukrainian energy analysts said Minsk also suspended fuel supplies to Ukraine.    The energy ministry said it could not confirm this but added that the country had sufficient petrol reserves.
    On Wednesday, Ukraine’s state energy regulatory authority ruled to ban electricity imports from Belarus and its closest ally, Russia, as they are not members of the Energy Community (of South East Europe).
    Since Soviet times, Ukraine has been connected to the energy systems of neighbouring states and at the beginning of this year imported energy due to a lack of domestic power generation.
    The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has advised domestic and foreign airlines to avoid Belarusian air space.    Ukraine also decided to ban Belarus-registered planes from using its airspace from May 29.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/28/2021 Nationwide Strike Planned In Belarus, Opposition Leader Says by Stephanie van den Berg
Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Affairs Minister
Sigrid Kaag talk to the press after their meeting in The Hague, Netherlands May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Belarus’s leading opposition figure said on Friday that a nationwide strike was being planned to protest against the arrest of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
    Belarus has been subject to EU and U.S. sanctions since Lukashenko cracked down on protests after a disputed election last year.    His decision to intercept an international airliner in Belarusian airspace on Sunday and arrest the 26-year-old blogger has brought restrictions on air travel and vows of much more serious action.
    “We hope it (protests) will continue and workers are being prepared for a nationwide strike … people will go out on the streets again,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, now living in exile in Lithuania, told journalists after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague.
    The Netherlands was among countries that joined a fourth round of European Union sanctions against Belarus this week.
    Rutte said forcing a commercial aircraft to land showed that “the regime is clearly panicking.”
    He promised to work with Tsikhanouskaya on “whatever is needed” in a fifth package of sanctions.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/28/2021 Polish Ultra-Conservatives Launch University To Mould New Elites
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Law and Justice party walk with a portrait of late Pope John Paul II
during a pro-government demonstration in Warsaw, Poland December 13, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – An ultra-conservative Polish think tank on Friday inaugurated a university intended to mould future leaders who espouse the conservative Christian values that the nationalist government champions, and push back against Western liberalism.
    The project reflects a wider backlash in central Europe against what many ruling politicians and right-wing commentators view as a tide of discrimination against conservative ideas and research.
    Although independent of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, the think tank, Ordo Iuris, has gained prominence in recent years, and seen several of its former members reach senior positions in the Polish government and judiciary.
    It offers legal aid to parents who oppose discussion of gay and lesbian rights in schools, and to local authorities that say they oppose “LGBT ideology” in order to preserve Poland’s traditional Roman Catholic culture.
    Ordo Iuris officials said their Collegium Intermarium, would mirror the Central European University (CEU), founded and funded by liberal-minded Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, in seeking to become a springboard for future leaders in the region
    “This is our undertaking: Integrating central Europe based on our cultural values and on our interests,” said Tymoteusz Zych, vice-president of Ordo Iuris and dean of the new university.
    The CEU was forced out of Hungary by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has accused Soros of trying to destroy European civilisation with his efforts to support immigrants. Soros says his support for refugees is a humanitarian mission.
    “The new university aspires to the noble goal of creating an academic community that dedicates itself to protecting Christian conservative principles,” said Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s chief of staff, said on Friday.
    “It aims to become a bulwark against human rights fundamentalism and political correctness that have become rampant in today’s Europe.”
    Poland’s education minister has proposed a law that would exempt academic teachers from disciplinary measures for expressing religious or philosophical views.
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/28/2021 UK PM Told Hungary’s Orban Of Significant Human Rights Concerns
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
at Downing Street in London, Britain May 28, 2021. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Viktor Orban he had significant concerns about human rights in Hungary, including gender equality, LGBT rights and media freedom in a meeting between the two leaders in London on Friday.
    “The Prime Minister raised his significant concerns about human rights in Hungary, including gender equality, LGBT rights and media freedom,” a spokeswoman for Johnson’s office said.
    “The leaders also discussed a number of foreign policy issues including Russia, Belarus and China.    The Prime Minister encouraged Hungary to use their influence to promote democracy and stability.”
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editin by William James)

6/1/2021 Russia Raids Home Of Detained Open Russia Opposition Group Leader
FILE PHOTO: Andrei Pivovarov, chief of Open Russia opposition group, attends a forum of independent members
of municipal councils in Moscow, Russia March 13, 2021. Kommersant Photo/Alexander Miridonov via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities raided the apartment of opposition activist Andrei Pivovarov on Tuesday after he was hauled off a plane and taken into custody as part of a broader crackdown on critics of the Kremlin.
    Police removed Andrei Pivovarov, director of Open Russia, a now defunct opposition group linked to exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, from a flight that was about to take off to Warsaw from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport late on Monday.
    His team said police questioned him, searched his apartment and opened a criminal case against him on Tuesday for allegedly violating Russia’s legislation on “undesirable organisations
    “These situations show us that they are afraid of us, and we are a majority,” Pivovarov’s Twitter account said.
    The Investigative Committee in the southern region of Krasnodar said in a statement it had opened a case over an online post from August 2020 that called for the public to support the organisation, the Interfax news agency reported.
    It did not give details of the post, nor name Pivovarov, but gave the same charges his team cited.
    Russia declared the London-based Open Russia group “undesirable” in 2017, effectively banning its activities.    Its allies in Russia continued their activism under a separate legal entity to try to protect themselves from prosecution.
    The group folded its activities in Russia last week to prevent its supporters from facing criminal prosecution as parliament prepares to adopt legislation that would increase criminal liability for anyone who cooperates with “undesirable organisations.”
    Russia says the law is needed to protect its national security from external interference.
    Pivovarov’s detention drew international attention.
    “As the international community, we should react to what is happening in civil society in Russia,” Deputy Polish Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told state-run broadcaster TVP Info.
    In a separate incident on Tuesday, opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov said police were searching his cottage outside the city of Kolomna.     He said police had also targeted former and current members of his staff.
    “I don’t know the formal reason for this,” Gudkov wrote on the Telegram social media platform.    “But the real (reason) is clear.”
    Gudkov’s father Gennady, also critical of the Kremlin, described the searches as “a special operation to eliminate Gudkov’s team.”
    Authorities are yet to comment on the operation Gudkov said was under way.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Maxim Rodionov in Moscow, and Pawel Florkiewicz and Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/1/2021 Russia Detains Ex-Chief Of Opposition Group Open Russia – Report
Andrei Pivovarov, chief of Open Russia opposition group, attends a forum of independent members of municipal councils in Moscow, Russia March 13, 2021.
Picture taken March 13, 2021. Kommersant Photo/Alexander Miridonov via REUTERS RUSSIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN RUSSIA.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former director of Open Russia, an opposition group linked to exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been removed from a plane in St. Petersburg and arrested, a monitoring group reported on Tuesday.
    OVD-Info, a group which monitors police action against opposition figures, said Andrei Pivovarov was arrested at Pulkovo airport and was being transferred to the Investigative Committee.
    Open Russia said on Thursday it had decided to end its operations in Russia to protect its members from the risk of being jailed.
    Russia declared the London-based group “undesirable” in 2017, effectively banning its activities.    Its allies in Russia continued their activism under the same name, but as a separate legal entity to try to protect themselves from prosecution.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/1/2021 Russia’s Lavrov Says Big Decisions Unlikely At Putin-Biden Summit - Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to U.S. President Joe Biden as he attends a virtual global
climate summit via a video link in Moscow, Russia April 22, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Historically important decisions are unlikely to be made at a summit this month between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, the Interfax news agency cited Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Tuesday.
    Russia said on Monday it would send “uncomfortable” signals to the United States ahead of the summit and announced it was beefing up its western border militarily.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/1/2021 A Russian Village Prospers Thanks To The Pandemic by Polina Devittbrf>
People are seen at a cafe in the village of Krasnaya Polyana, Russia May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Polina Devitt
    KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (Reuters) – Residents of a picturesque Russian village have seen the price of their land double as people from Moscow and other cities snap up properties as a refuge from COVID-19 where they can work remotely.
    Krasnaya Polyana (Red Meadow) is a beautiful village of five streets in the mountains near the Black Sea.    Flanked by mountains, it has good quality tap water, fresh air and big blue skies – things that can prove elusive in Moscow.
    The village has 5,000 residents, which is typical for Russia.    What is atypical is that there are 20 cafes, restaurants, a pub and a bar, along with fast Wifi.
    Some of the restaurants existed before the pandemic to cater for skiers who use nearby resorts built for the 2014 Winter Olympics.    But the locals decided to open year-round once they got over fears that visitors from Moscow would bring COVID-19.
    Demand for second homes has fuelled a housing boom.
    Russian land prices are assessed in 100 square metre units, or sotki.    The price of one sotka in Krasnaya Polyana has risen to 5 million roubles ($68,000) from 2 million before the pandemic, Nikolai Rogachev, a local sales agent, told Reuters.
    It is likely to hit 7 million by the end of 2021, he said, due to strong demand when overseas travel options are limited.
    “We call it the zombie apocalypse,” another real estate agent said, referring to demand from city dwellers for any kind of property in the village and the quality of their social skills after months spent in their small urban flats.
    Prices for cottages in the village vary from 40 million to 900 million roubles, according to the CIAN real estate database.
    Demand comes mainly from wealthy businessmen from big cities as prices are beyond ordinary Russians.
    Rents have also risen, driven by demand from people who work remotely and see Krasnaya Polyana as an escape from the city.    The airport is a 40-minute drive and hiking trails start directly from the village.
    “I enjoy hiking the mountain trails and being able to find pleasant company in local places in the evenings,” said Kirill Ryzhonkov, a data analyst from Moscow.
    A co-working space opened in October, primarily for IT and start-up specialists.
    Its owners expect Krasnaya Polyana to become a Russian Silicon Valley regardless of how the pandemic develops.
    “People have already noticed the advantages: the same time zone as Moscow, a 2-hour flight to Moscow, skiing in the winter, the sea in summer and cool infrastructure left behind by the Olympics,” said Ilya Kreimer, manager of the co-working space.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; editing by Andrew Osborn and Giles Elgood)

6/1/2021 Belarus Tells Putin It Will Investigate Arrested Russian Citizen
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko take a
boat trip off the Black Sea coast, Russia May 29, 2021. Sputnik/Sergei Ilyin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told his Russian counterpart that the investigation into Sofia Sapega, the detained girlfriend of an arrested dissident blogger, would take place in Belarus, the state-run Belta news agency said on Tuesday.
    Sapega, a Russian citizen, was detained alongside her boyfriend Roman Protasevich on May 23 after their plane was forced to land in Minsk.
    “The investigation of both individuals will be held in Belarus,” Belta cited Lukashenko as saying.    “I told the President of Russia this,” he added, referring to talks held with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi last week.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/1/2021 Germany Rejects Ukrainian Request For Arms Deliveries
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gestures during his annual news conference at the
Antonov aircraft plant in Kyiv, Ukraine May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany on Tuesday rejected calls for arms deliveries to Kyiv, after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Berlin for assault rifles, radio equipment and armoured vehicles.
    “I am convinced the conflict (in eastern Ukraine) can only be resolved by political means,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told journalists ahead of a video conference with his NATO counterparts.
    “This will remain the guideline of our engagement with Ukraine, and there will be no change: Arms deliveries won’t help,” he added.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Caroline Copley)

6/1/2021 ‘Together Again’: ‘Russian Davos’ To Go Ahead In Person With Putin, Despite Pandemic by Katya Golubkova and Polina Nikolskaya
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin waves while walking along Red Square after a military parade
on Victory Day, in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of officials and executives will gather in person in St Petersburg this week – and President Vladimir Putin will give a speech – as the annual economic forum Moscow pitches as “the Russian Davos” returns despite the COVID-19>     For years, Russia has used the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) to try to attract foreign investment, discuss economic policy and project an image that it is open for business.    It was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, but is back on, with the title “Together Again.”
    A negative COVID-19 test is required to access the venue, which will be disinfected, with doors and elevators cleaned once every two hours.    Attendees will be expected to wear masks and gloves, which are typically required in public places in Russia.
    On Tuesday, St Petersburg reported 817 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours and 38 deaths.
    The pace of vaccination in Russia has so far been slower than in many developed countries, even though Russia has been exporting its own vaccine, Sputnik V.    The health minister said last week around 17 million of Russia’s 144 million people had received at least one dose.
    The June 2-5 forum will host guests from 130 countries and 1,200 companies, said organiser Roscongress.    Only 128 of nearly 1,000 panelists will appear online.
    Putin will appear in person, with the two highest ranking foreign guests – Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – appearing online.
    Many international business executives and officials have shunned the conference since 2014, when Moscow angered the West by annexing the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, although some have begun to return in recent years.
    Among those listed as scheduled to appear this year are Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive of French energy company Total, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, and Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister.
    Kremlin critics often use the event to highlight what they say are human rights abuses and politically-motivated business decisions that hurt Russia as an investment destination.    The Kremlin denies abusing rights and says it protects foreign investors.
    The World Economic Forum, with which Russia compares its conference, replaced this year’s annual event in the Swiss ski resort of Davos with a virtual conference in January.    It had also announced an in-person event to be held later this year in Singapore, but said two weeks ago that it was cancelled.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff)

6/1/2021 Escaping The Crowds: Croatia Yacht Holidays In Demand Once Again
Tourists load supplies on a boat in the Kastel Gomilica marina, Croatia, May 29, 2021. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    KASTEL GOMILICA, Croatia (Reuters) – Sailing holidays may well be one of the best ways to avoid any crowds this summer and Croatian yacht charter companies say they have seen a strong increase in bookings from July to September after the pandemic brought some of them close to ruin.
    Jelena Matkovic, head of bookings at Croatia Yachting, said two months ago some firms like hers were facing ruin due to the slump in tourism amid the pandemic.
    “If we witness another year like the last one, many owners of the boats and charter companies would have difficulties to survive,” Matkovic said as she stood in a marina in the Bay of Kastela surrounded by dozens of sailing yachts.
    “However, although May was practically lost and June is still full of uncertainty, the bookings for July, August and September are strongly rising,” she said.
    Yachting holidays make up a big chunk of Croatian tourism.    “Croatia runs around 30% of the global charter fleet of the sailing boats that are up to 16 meters (52 ft) long,” said Pasko Klisovic who heads an association of boat chartering firms.
    But the industry suffered a huge blow last year when the coronavirus pandemic halted global leisure travel.    Revenues have plummeted, and with overheads high – the costs of keeping up a sailing boat reaches annually some 30,000 euros ($36,700) -companies barely survived.
    However, some tourists have already begun to arrive on the Croatian coast.    Marc, a German tourist from Munich, said he was chartering a boat in the Bay of Kastela with a group of his friends.
    “A lot of people couldn’t commit to holidays and didn’t want to go to Croatia.    We did several security steps, we did the PCR tests, some people are vaccinated and we feel safe on the boat, much safer than in the hotel or with the air travel,” he said.
    The epidemic situation in Croatia has been steadily improving in the last few weeks.    The rate of infection fell to some 300 new cases daily from more than 2,500 in mid-April.
    Germany and Austria are the main markets, the Croatian Tourist Board data show, but guests come from all over the world including Scandinavian countries, Britain, the United States and Australia.
    “The conditions of return to their countries of origin weighs a lot when the tourists decide whether to come or not.    In that sense, if we keep a good epidemic situation the guests will come as they won’t face any restrictions when going home,” Matkovic> ($1 = 0.8174 euros)
(Reporting by Antonio Bronic and Igor Ilic, editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/1/2021 Ball In Moscow’s Court To Improve Ties With NATO, Says Germany
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a news conference in Berlin, Germany May 28, 2021 after Germany recognised for the first time that it
had committed genocide in Namibia during its colonial occupation and agreed to fund projects worth over a billion euros. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) -NATO is ready for dialogue with Russia, but the ball is in Moscow’s court, Germany said on Tuesday, two weeks before leaders of the military alliance are due to meet in Brussels with ties between Moscow and the West at post-cold war lows.
    “Our message remains clear: We are prepared for dialogue, and we have made proposals, but the key to a better relationship lies clearly with Moscow,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters before a video call with his NATO counterparts.
    He was echoing remarks by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who on Monday underscored the alliance would continue to seek dialogue with Moscow, while also exercising troops for defensive purposes.
    “We are there to prevent conflict and war. But the best way of doing that is to send a clear message to any potential adversary that if one ally is attacked, the whole alliance will be there,” Stoltenberg said.
    His comments were a reaction to Russia saying it would deploy around 20 new military formations and units close to NATO’s borders by the end of the year, which Moscow justified by calling out increased military activity on its western flank.
    Stoltenberg, however, said NATO had stepped up its exercises and ramped up its readiness in response to Russia’s interference in Ukraine and an increased Russian military presence in the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad and the Black Sea.
    “This is one of the main reasons why NATO over the last years has increased the readiness of our forces and also why we have deployed battle groups to the eastern part of the alliance,” Stoltenberg said.
    NATO’s Russia policy follows a two-track approach of deterrence and dialogue, though the alliance suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow in April 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/1/2021 Belarus Opposition Leader Calls For More U.S. Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya talks to the press after her meeting with Dutch Prime Minister
Mark Rutte and Foreign Affairs Minister Sigrid Kaag in The Hague, Netherlands May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    VILNIUS (Reuters) -Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Tuesday she had asked the United States for further sanctions on individuals and companies supporting the Belarus government.
    The Biden administration said on Friday it was drawing up a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government following the former Soviet republic’s forced landing of a passenger jet and arrest of a journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on board.
    Speaking in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius where she is based, Tsikhanouskaya said she welcomed a decision by the United States to introduce sanctions against Belarusian state-owned oil companies starting from June 3rd.
    “But we also ask for further measures in targeted sanctions against enterprises and individuals supporting the regime,” Tsikhanouskaya said after a meeting with Democratic and Republican senators from the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee.
    “Sanctions should help to stop the violence and help release of all political prisoners,” she added.
    Senator Jeanne Shaheen told reporters Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka should release Protasevich and Sapega immediately, and unharmed, and Lukashenka would be held accountable for their wellbeing.
    The United States would do everything it could to support the efforts of the Belarusian people efforts towards democracy, Shaheen added.
    “To Lukashenko, I say, it’s time for you to go.    Make room for a democratically elected leader, more deserving of your people,” Shaheen said.
(Reporting by Andrius SytasEditing by Andrew Heavens and David Holmes)

6/1/2021 Ten Years After Breivik Attacks, Survivors Seek To Confront Far-Right Extremism by Gwladys Fouche
Astrid Hoem, a survivor of the 2011 shooting on Utoeya, retraces the steps of her escape
from Anders Behring Breivik, in Utoeya, Norway May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Gwladys Fouche
    UTOEYA, Norway (Reuters) – Nearly 10 years after Anders Behring Breivik tried to kill her on the Norwegian island of Utoeya, Astrid Hoem is back there to explain to a group of teenagers how she ran for her life and hid in a beach cove while Breivik murdered others around her.
    “He shot a girl next to me, in the back.    She told me: ‘please tell my parents I love them because I am going to die’,” Hoem, 26, tells the high school students.    The girl survived.
    The students, who are on a three-day workshop on how to solve conflicts and challenge racist attitudes, listen in silence as Hoem recalls her memories: how she did not move for about two hours from under a rock, how she did not call friends in fear the ring would give their positions away to Breivik, how she thought Norway was at war.
    Breivik detonated a car bomb outside the prime minister’s office in Oslo, killing eight, before driving to Utoeya and shooting 69 people gathered at a Labour Party youth camp on July 22, 2011.
    Survivors, many of whom were teenagers at the time, are determined to confront the far-right ideology which was a catalyst for the attack.
    “It is important that we talk about it because I do not want it to happen again,” Hoem tells them.
    It already has.    In New Zealand in March 2019 white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who said in his manifesto he was inspired by Breivik, gunned down 51 people at two mosques.
    Later that year, Norwegian Philip Manshaus killed his Chinese-born adopted sister and tried to shoot worshippers at a mosque.    He cited Tarrant as an inspiration, according to a court psychiatric report.
    “Those opinions, those conspiracies, that hate… is stronger now than it was ten years ago,” Hoem told Reuters.
    In April, Labour decided at its party congress that, should it regain power in elections in September, it would set up a commission to investigate the early lives of Breivik and Manshaus to understand and prevent radicalisation.
    The commission would also probe Norwegians who became Islamist fighters in Syria.
    “What can we do to keep young, especially young white males, from turning out so extreme opinions that they feel they can take lives because they disagree with someone? We have to know how to prevent it in school, on the internet, in our communities,” Hoem said.
    Survivors also want to debate publicly some mainstream political attitudes that they say provide the ideological justification for extremist violent actions.
    Breivik believed Labour betrayed Norway simply by allowing Muslims to live there as part of what he believed was a worldwide conspiracy to make Islam the dominant religion in Europe rather than Christianity.
    Survivors see some mainstream right-wing politicians legitimising this view by being critical of Muslims and labelling them as a threat to Norwegian society.
    Over the past decade, the populist Progress Party has regularly raised its concerns about what it says is “sneaky Islamisation” taking place that contradicts Norway’s traditional way of living.
    Progress, which has repeatedly condemned the Breivik attacks, denies its views help fuel far-right extremism.
    But party leader Sylvi Listhaug said it would continue to push for tighter immigration and integration policies.
    “Political debate must be allowed. We do not allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence even if attempts are made to put labels on us,” she told Reuters.
    The new attitude by survivors is a departure from Norway’s response at the time, which emphasised unity and consensus.
    In the following months, debate focused on the failures of authorities such as the delayed response by police to Utoeya, rather than on Breivik’s worldview.
    “The ten-year anniversary of July 22 gives a concrete occasion to look back and to try to recalibrate the debate,” said Hallvard Notaker, the author of “Labour and July 22.”
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/1/2021 Leading Cuban Dissident Released From Hospital After 4 Weeks by Sarah Marsh
    FILE PHOTO: Dissident artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara speaks during an interview at
the headquarters of San Isidro Movement in Havana, Cuba, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) -Leading Cuban dissident Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara vowed to keep fighting after he was released from hospital on Monday, four weeks after authorities admitted the “artivist” while he was staging a hunger and thirst strike.
    The General Calixto Garcia hospital in Havana said its treatment had enabled the 33-year-old artist to completely recover from his diagnosis of “voluntary starvation,” and his clinical and health parameters were now all within normal range.
    His supporters denounced contradictions in statements by health authorities.    When he was first admitted on May 2, they had said they could detect no sign of malnutrition and that he was in a stable condition, in what appeared a bid to cast doubt on his hunger strike.
    Otero Alcantara said in a video published by outlet CubaNet that he needed to get up to date on all that had happened while he was kept incomunicado in hospital and would then explain in further detail his side of the story.
    His release comes after pressure from U.S. officials and rights groups like Amnesty International, which 10 days ago named Otero Alcantara a “prisoner of conscience,” saying state security appeared to have him under supervision at the hospital.
    Cuba’s government accuses him of being a mercenary for the United States, which in recent years has tightened its decades-old sanctions on the Communist-run island, deepening its economic crisis.
    “I’ve got to get up to date and emerge from a state of shock, but what is clear is that … we are going to keep fighting,” Otero Alcantara told CubaNet after arriving at the home of relatives, noting he was worried about fellow activists who remained detained after protesting his hospitalization.
    Reuters was unable to immediately reach Otero Alcantara, who is the head of the San Isidro Movement, a group of a few dozen artists, writers and activists that has protested restrictions in Cuba on civil liberties for the last few years.
    The movement has used the advent of mobile internet in Cuba at the end of 2018 to document its provocative performances on social media and command attention.    A collective hunger strike sparked a rare protest outside the culture ministry last Nov 27 which in turn catalysed a new protest movement: 27N.
    Last week, around 20 Cuban artists including some from 27N asked that their works in Havana’s Fine Arts Museum be hidden from public view, in a sign of solidarity with Otero Alcantara.    The museum denied the request saying it was not in the public interest.
    The hospital said in its statement that the artist had reiterated many times his gratitude toward the medical staff that “respected his will” both regarding his treatment and the length of his stay.
    “I’m really happy and relieved, he’s at his family home now at least,” his friend and fellow activist Iris Ruiz said.    “There was so much uncertainty before.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Leslie Adler and Michael Perry)

6/2/2021 Belarusian Prisoner Tries To Cut Own Throat In Court Hearing by Matthias Wiblliams
A still image taken from video footage shows Belarusian prisoner Stepan Latypov, who was arrested during a security crackdown
on mass protests following a contested presidential election in 2020, being carried out of a court building after
a suicide attempt in Minsk, Belarus June 1, 2021. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)/Handout via REUTERS TV
    (Reuters) – A Belarusian prisoner detained in a crackdown on protests tried to cut his own throat during a court hearing on Tuesday after being told his family and neighbours faced prosecution if he did not plead guilty, media, activists and a witness said.
    Footage by RFE/RL showed 41-year-old Stepan Latypov lying on a wooden bench inside a prisoner’s cage in the courtroom in the capital Minsk, with police officers standing over him and onlookers screaming.
    A second video showed Latypov being carried out to a waiting ambulance with what appeared to be blood spots on his shirt.    Local media and the human rights group Viasna-96 said he was still alive.
    Latypov’s father Sergei had appeared as a witness in court on Tuesday, according to Belarusian human rights group Viasna-96 and Irina, a friend of Latypov.
    Latypov addressed his father in court, saying he had been held in a torture cell for 51 days, and warned his father to prepare for a similar fate.    He then stabbed himself in the throat with an object resembling a pen, Viasna-96 reported.
    “Stepan got up, took his face mask off, and said: ‘Father, police officers told me I will be put into the confinement cell and my relatives and neighbours will be prosecuted under criminal law if I do not confess’,” Irina told RFE/RL.
    Stepan then “took something white in his teeth, and started literally to cut his throat. Everyone started screaming.    Police officers could not open the defendant’s cage for awhile.    He fell unconscious. We were taken out of the courtroom.”
    The health ministry said a 41-year-old man was in a stable condition after medics treated his wound in hospital under anaesthetic.    It said the man injured himself in a courtroom.    The interior ministry spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
    “Belarusian activist, political prisoner Stsiapan Latypau cut his throat in the courtroom today,” exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter, using a different spelling of Latypov’s name.    “This is the result of state terror, repressions, torture in Belarus.”
    The nearby guards could not open the prisoner’s cage immediately because they did not have the right keys, independent media outlet Nasha Niva reported.
    Latypov was arrested last September during an intensifying security crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko on mass protests following a contested election the month before.
    He was detained in a Minsk courtyard that came to be known by some residents and media as the “Square of Change.”
    Latypov had stood in front of a mural there to try to prevent state workers, accompanied by police, from painting over opposition graffiti.
    He was charged with organising riots, resisting police and fraud, and also accused on state television of planning to poison the police.    He denies any wrongdoing.
    In May, Lukashenko’s government was condemned by Western countries when a 26-year-old dissident blogger was arrested after the Belarusian authorities grounded a Ryanair plane travelling from Greece to Lithuania.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool)

6/2/2021 Lukashenko Bets On Annexed Crimea Opening Its Sky For Flights From Belarus
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during a meeting with parliamentarians, members of the Constitutional Commission and
representatives of public administration bodies, in Minsk, Belarus May 26, 2021. Press Service of the President of the Republic of Belarus/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has refused to recognise Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, said on Tuesday that Minsk was working with Moscow about starting flights to Crimea from Belarus.
    The national airline of land-locked Belarus is at risk of sanctions by the European Union after a Ryanair flight was pressed to land in Minsk on May 23 to arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend.
    “Ukraine has closed the sky to us. We have our own sanatorium in Crimea … where people always used to go, fly.    In order not to aggravate relations, we travelled there through Ukraine … Now they have closed the sky,” Belta news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying.
    Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, drawing sanctions and condemnation from the West.    Kyiv wants the territory back.
    “I told (Russian President Vladimir) Putin: ‘You think how we can get to Crimea. We are not going to fly through Poland: they do not allow us to go there either,” Belta reported, citing Lukashenko.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; editing by Grant McCool)

6/2/2021 Austrian Far-Right Leader Quits, Leaving Succession Open
FILE PHOTO: Head of Freedom Party (FPOe) Norbert Hofer addresses the media in Vienna, Austria October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Norbert Hofer stepped down on Tuesday but pointedly did not back his high-profile deputy and rival Herbert Kickl to succeed him.
    Hofer, widely seen as the most likeable face of the anti-Islam and anti-immigration party that crashed out of government amid scandal two years ago, came close to winning Austria’s presidential election in 2016 only to lose a re-run.
    He took over as leader from Heinz-Christian Strache after a video sting scandal in 2019 forced Strache to quit as Austrian vice chancellor and brought down a coalition government led by conservative Sebastian Kurz, who now governs with the Greens.
    “In the past months it has been possible to stabilise the party again and bring it close to the 20% mark in opinion polls.    I have thus set up the party so that it can be successful in the coming years as well.    My own journey at the head of the FPO, however, ends today,” Hofer said in a statement by the party.
    The statement did not say why Hofer, 50, was quitting but referred to recent treatment for back problems.    He has walked with a cane since a paragliding accident in 2003.
    There have been several reports in the Austrian media of a rift with Kickl, a more abrasive figure who takes a harder line on opposing coronavirus restrictions and attacking Kurz.
    His announcement still stunned the party that has long been running third in polls behind Kurz’s conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats.
    “I was surprised by the events of the day,” party heavyweight Manfred Haimbuchner, FPO leader the province of Upper Austria, said in a statement.
    On the next leader, Hofer’s statement said only: “I wish my successor in this post good luck for the future.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/3/2021 Bulgarians Welcome U.S. Graft Sanctions, EU Nods Approval
FILE PHOTO: Protesters cast their shadows on a Bulgarian flag as they shout anti-government
slogans during a demonstration in central Sofia June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    BRUSSELS/SOFIA (Reuters) -Leading Bulgarian politicians welcomed U.S. sanctions on three Bulgarians and 64 companies linked to them over alleged corruption on Thursday, while the European Union signalled its approval by saying it would not impose countermeasures.
    The U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday the sanctions were its single biggest action against graft to date, and also targeted plans to create a conduit for Russian political leaders to influence the Bulgarian government.
    Leaders of Bulgarian political parties welcomed the sanctions ahead of snap parliamentary elections on July 11, with the leader of the anti-establishment ITN party, Slavi Trifonov, calling them a “friendly hand from a partner.”
    The sanctions impose a freeze on any U.S. assets of former lawmaker and media mogul Delyan Peevski, government official Ilko Zhelyazkov, and fugitive gambling tycoon Vassil Bozhkov.    Peevski, Zhelyazkov and three other former officials were also barred from entering the United States.
    The U.S. government accused Peevski of influence peddling and bribery, and Zhelyazkov of acting as his front-man to conduct bribery schemes.     Peevski has denied wrongdoing and threatened to take legal action over the U.S. sanctions.
    Bozhkov said the decision to impose sanctions ignored his own status as a victim of extortion.
    Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who was in power for much of the past decade and who is accused by his political opponents of weakening state institutions for the benefit of oligarchs, also welcomed the sanctions and denied any links to those blacklisted.
    “We have not received one cent from Bozhkov… I have met with Peevski only to discuss political issues.    We do not have joint companies or any joint business,” he said.
    Bulgaria ranks as the EU’s most corrupt member state according to Transparency International’s index.
    The EU, which has complained in the past over U.S. sanctions related to Iran and Cuba, said that the sanctions on the Bulgarians “do not apply on EU territory … so there is nothing that would justify us taking any kind of counter measures.”
    “These are the measures that the United States took within their legal framework,” an EU spokesman told reporters.
    The EU has a blocking statute to counter U.S. sanctions, although it has never been used.    The blocking statute can legally ban any EU company from complying with U.S. sanctions and, if used, would mean court rulings that enforce American penalties would not be recognised.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Tsvetelia Tsolova in SofiaEditing by David Holmes and Peter Graff)

6/3/2021 Ukraine Parliament Approves Bill To Jail Officials For Hiding Wealth
FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian state flag, which is installed on the roof of the parliament
building, flies in Kiev, Ukraine September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian lawmakers approved a law on Thursday to impose jail sentences on officials who make false asset declarations.
    The legislation was a requirement for the government to secure more loans from the International Monetary Fund under a $5 billion programme.    The IMF did not immediately comment on the approval.
    The legislation stipulates that officials who do not submit their asset declarations or fail to declare assets worth more than 4.2 million hryvnias ($150,000) face two years in jail.
    Last October the Constitutional Court struck down some anti-corruption laws as excessive, including legislation that allows for the jailing of corrupt officials for hiding their wealth.
    That ruling has hobbled Ukraine’s prospects of securing more IMF loans and prompted President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to suspend the head of the court.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Alison Williams/Mark Heinrich)

6/3/2021 Czech Government Set To Survive No-Confidence Vote by Robert Muller
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks at a parliamentary session during a no-confidence
vote for his government, in Prague, Czech Republic, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis was set to survive a no-confidence motion on Thursday after a party holding decisive votes said it would not support the attempt to overthrow the minority cabinet.
    Success of the motion, brought by two opposition coalitions over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and investigations into the billionaire prime minister’s alleged conflicts of interest, would shift power to pro-Russian President Milos Zeman for a few months before a general election due in October.
    But the opposition was certain to lack enough votes after the Czech Communist party decided not to participate in the vote.    The party has supported Babis throughout his term but took issue over his cabinet’s tough stance in a spying row with Russia.
    “The government does not have our confidence, but the rightist (opposition) parties even less so,” Communist Party Chairman Vojtech Filip said in the debate in parliament.
    “Therefore we will not participate in this pointless spectacle, and we are leaving to work for the people,” Filip said.
    President Zeman has repeatedly said he would keep the cabinet in place in a caretaker capacity until the October general election.
    However, given his right to appoint a new prime minister at any moment, he would have greater leverage over the cabinet’s actions, political analysts said.
    Babis told parliament the opposition had taken the Czechs as hostages and used the pandemic for politic games.    He also attacked his main rival, the liberal Pirate Party, which he blames for instigating scrutiny he faces from EU bodies over a business empire he has shifted into trust funds.
    “We don’t want the European Parliament to control our country.    Nobody from abroad will stick his nose in here,” Babis said.    “We don’t want multicultural, eco-fanatic Pirate-stan.”
    A coalition of the Pirate Party and the Mayors Party has led in opinion polls in recent months, ahead of Babis’s ANO party, and a centre-right coalition SPOLU (Together) in third place.    Polls give the two groups chances of winning enough seats to form a narrow majority and replace Babis’s cabinet.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alison Williams and David Holmes)

6/3/2021 Top EU Court Dismisses Hungary’s Complaint Over Democracy Probe by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks to the media after meeting with Britain's
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street in London, Britain May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The top European Union court dismissed on Thursday Hungary’s challenge against the opening in 2018 of a disciplinary procedure against Budapest for undermining democracy in the formerly communist country.
    Budapest had challenged on procedural grounds a European Parliament vote three years ago stating that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policies were posing “a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.”
    EU lawmakers’ decision could lead to a maximum, if unlikely, sanction of suspending Budapest’s voting rights in the 27-nation bloc.    Hungary sought to annul it.
    But the Court of Justice of the European Union dismissed Hungary’s case that the parliament had counted abstaining votes incorrectly, the latest in years of tussles between Orban and the bloc on democratic values.
    In a statement following the ruling, Hungary’s Justice Minister Judit Varga said the European Parliament vote contradicted the bloc’s laws and the chamber’s own rule of procedure in counting abstentions in an “irregular way.”
    In power since 2010, Orban has adopted increasingly restrictive laws on migrants and gays, as well as putting media, academics and NGOs under tighter state control.
    Hungary has also been under scrutiny for its public procurement laws the bloc’s executive says do not facilitate competition, which rights groups say opens the way to misappropriation of public funds.
    Orban denies breaking any laws and casts himself as a defender of traditional and Catholic family values.
    He most recently threatened to block a massive EU stimulus meant to help economies climb out of record recession triggered by the COVID pandemic unless provisions to halt the flow of money over rule of law violations were watered down.
    National EU ministers are expected to debate the latest on the rule of law in Hungary – and its other nationalist, eurosceptic ally Poland – in June.
    While some EU countries want to pile pressure on Orban, others worry that would risk alienating Budapest and straining the bloc’s damaged cohesion further. Deadlocked, the EU has all but failed to convince Hungary to change tack.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

6/4/2021 EU Bans Belarus Airlines As Opposition Urges G7 Sanctions by Robin Emmott and Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737-800 plane of Belarusian state carrier Belavia takes off at the
Domodedovo Airport outside Moscow, Russia May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) - Belarus carriers will be banned from flying over European Union territory or having access to its airports from Friday, the bloc said, as the country’s exiled opposition leader called for more joint Western sanctions.
    The EU decision is part of planned punitive measures against Belarus in response to Minsk scrambling a warplane to force the landing on May 23 of a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist, who was then arrested.
    The move is due to take effect at midnight Central European Time (2200 GMT), and requires EU member states “to deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers,” EU governments said in a statement.
    The ban also includes marketing carriers, which sell seats on planes operated by another airline as part of a code-share agreement.
    On Wednesday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a safety directive saying all EU aircraft should also avoid Belarus air space unless in an emergency.
    Global airline industry body IATA criticised the decision, which will make flights to Asia longer and more costly.
    However, the EU and NATO believe the forced landing of the flight from Athens to Vilnius to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend amounted to state piracy and must not be tolerated.
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said Protasevich was plotting a rebellion, and accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him.
    National carrier Belavia flies to some 20 airports in Europe including in Germany, France, Italy and Austria.
    Enforcement of the ban on Belarus carriers will fall to national EU governments, many of whom are also members of NATO, who can scramble fighter jets to protect their air space.
    Speaking in Poland, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled Belarus for Lithuania following disputed presidential elections in August 2020, told Reuters that Group of Seven countries should work together to impose new sanctions.
    Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States are expected to discuss Belarus on June 11, but host Britain has not yet accepted a French call to invite the Belarusian opposition to the event.
    “Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on the UK, the USA, the European Union and Ukraine,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
    EU governments say they are looking at targeting sectors that play a central role in Belarus’ economy, to inflict real punishment on Lukashenko.    They could include bond sales, the oil sector and key export potash.
    However, the bloc is expected to agree by June 21 a smaller sanctions list on individuals and two entities as a quick, intermediary response, according to diplomats.
    Tsikhanouskaya said the opposition has become more concerned about security since the Ryanair incident, and that they would try to provide more security training to those in exile.
    “I think that we started to pay more attention to security but again this is the strategy of the regime, to threaten people, to make them uncomfortable,” she said.
(Writing by Robin EmmottEditing by Mark Heinrich, Kirsten Donovan)

6/4/2021 Putin Calls U.S. Ransomware Allegations An Attempt To Stir Pre-Summit Trouble
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF)
in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 4, 2021. Sputnik/Vladimir Smirnov/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that suggestions the Russian state was linked to high profile ransomware attacks in the United States were absurd and an attempt to stir trouble ahead of his summit this month with U.S. President Joe Biden.
    A hack of Brazilian meatpacker JBS’s facilities in the United States, reported this week, is the third such ransomware hack in the country since Biden took office in January.
    JBS told the White House it originated from a criminal organisation likely based in Russia.
    The White House said on Wednesday that Biden, who is due to hold talks with Putin in Geneva on June 16, was expected to discuss the hacking attacks with the Russian leader to see what Moscow could do to prevent such cyber assaults.
    U.S. officials have spoken of criminal gangs based in eastern Europe or Russia as the probable culprits.    But Kremlin critics have pointed the finger at the Russian state itself, saying it must have had knowledge of the attacks and possibly even be directing them.
    Putin, speaking on the sidelines of the St Petersburg Economic Forum, told Russia’s state TV Channel One that the idea of Russian state involvement was absurd.
    “It’s just nonsense, it’s funny,” said Putin.    “It’s absurd to accuse Russia of this.”
    He said he was encouraged however, by what he said were efforts by some people in the United States to question the substance of such allegations and try to work out what is really going on.
    “Thank goodness there are people with common sense who are asking (themselves) this question and are putting the question to those who are trying to provoke a new conflict before our meeting with Biden,” said Putin.
    Praising Biden as an experienced politician, Putin said he expected the Geneva summit to be held in a positive atmosphere, but did not anticipate any breakthroughs.
    The meeting would be more about trying to chart a path to restore battered U.S.-Russia ties which are strained by everything from Russia’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to Ukraine to Syria, he said.
    Earlier on Friday, Putin told the same economic forum that the United States was openly trying to hold back Russia’s development and accused Washington of wielding the dollar as a tool of economic and political competition.
    “We have no disagreement with the United States.    They only have one point of disagreement – they want to hold back our development, they talk about this publicly,” Putin told the forum.
    “Everything else stems from this position,” he said.
    Putin also questioned what he said was the harsh way U.S. authorities had dealt with some people detained during the storming of the Capitol in January by supporters of Donald Trump.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

6/4/2021 Putin Plans To Offer Vaccinations To Visiting Foreigners For A Fee by Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International
Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 4, 2021. Anatoly Maltsev/Pool via REUTERS
    ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) -Russia may provide coronavirus vaccinations for a fee to foreigners who travel to the country, President Vladimir Putin told an economic forum on Friday, as Moscow seeks to enhance its global reputation with its Sputnik V vaccine.
    Addressing the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Putin said many people are coming to Russia to get a shot.    “I am asking the government to study this issue in full by the end of the month, to establish conditions for foreign citizens to get vaccinated in our country for a fee,” he said without providing more detail.
    The Russian vaccine has been approved by 66 nations and is under review both by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency(EMA).    Approval by the latter agency is required for use in the European Union.
    The pace of vaccination in Russia has been slower than in many developed countries.    The health minister said last week around 17 million of Russia’s 144 million people had received at least one dose.
    Those attending the conference were required to have coronavirus tests and wear masks and gloves.    Moscow pitches the gathering as the Russian version of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.    Many other big global events were either cancelled or moved online amid the pandemic.
    Attended by a couple thousand people, the SPIEF is intended to attract foreign investment to Russia, but activity was more subdued this year.
    Rosneft, Russia’s top oil company, skipped its usual booth, and its CEO, Igor Sechin, decided against running a public panel about the global oil market as he has traditionally done.
    Sechin, in a mask and gloves, told a Reuters correspondent to “mind a distance” when approached.    The former and current CEOs of BP Plc, Bob Dudley and Bernard Looney, were there in masks.    BP holds a 19.75% stake in Rosneft.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Gleb Stolyarov, Olesya Astakhova and Oksana Kobzeva; writing by Katya Golubkova; editing by Jon Boyle and Cynthia Osterman)

6/4/2021 MH17 Plane Crash Families Prepare For Critical Trial Phase by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Lawyers attend the judges' inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage, as part of the murder trial
ahead of the beginning of a critical stage, in Reijen, Netherlands, May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Families of people who died in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 said they were preparing to hear painful details when a critical stage of a trial over the crash starts on Monday.
    MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels during fighting with Ukrainian government troops, international investigators say.
    All 298 people on board were killed, two-thirds of them Dutch nationals.
    Dutch judges overseeing the murder trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian man accused of having responsibility for the downing will summarise evidence at the hearing in a high-security courtroom next to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
    “On the one hand we want to know exactly what happened, why it happened and who was responsible, but the price you pay for that is that there is also information released that could be shocking,” Piet Ploeg, a spokesman for the relatives, said.
    “Eventually that should lead to getting justice and justice includes at least that we have an independent court rule on who was responsible,” he told Reuters.    Ploeg lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew in the crash.
    After years of collecting evidence, a team of international investigators concluded in May 2018 that the missile launcher used to shoot down the aircraft belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.
    The Dutch government holds Moscow responsible. Russia denies any involvement.
    Prosecutors, who say the four defendants all held leading positions in pro-Russian militias operating in Ukraine, will present evidence and may call witnesses, court officials said.
    None of the defendants are in custody.    One, Russian Oleg Pulatov, is represented in the proceedings and has said he had no involvement in the crash.
    The other three are being tried in absentia and have not appointed lawyers to represent them.
    Prosecutors say the investigation into MH17 is still ongoing and they are looking at other possible suspects, including the people who manned the missile system and ordered its firing.
    After the prosecution presents its view on the judges’ summary of the case file on June 17 and 18, the defence will have an opportunity to respond.
    No date has yet been set for closing arguments, but the court said that victims’ families could address the judges directly about the impact of the crash on their lives in hearings in September.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Andrew Heavens)

6/4/2021 Sweden’s Left Party Threatens To Topple Govt Over Rent Reform
FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks as he arrives to attend a face-to-face EU summit amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s centrist government came under threat on Friday after the Left Party vowed to bring it down over the prospective abolition of rent controls on new residential housing.
    The Left Party threat came after the government received a report into the reform of Sweden’s highly regulated and much debated rent market, proposing that tenants and landlords negotiate rent between them and that rents subsequently follow the consumer prices index.
    “This is a disaster for Sweden’s tenants,” Left Party leader Nooshi Dagostar told news agency TT.    “This means sharply higher rents and a paradigm change for the housing market.”
    Dagostar reiterated a threat to join forces with the right-wing opposition to bring down Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s government if the proposal was brought to parliament.
    Sweden’s parliament is fragmented and the Social Democrats and the Greens Sweden form a fragile government dependent on the support of two small centre-right parties.    General elections are scheduled for next year.
    However, Minister for Justice Morgan Johansson dismissed the prospect of raised rents for large numbers of people.
    “All the tenants who have become anxious after the recent agitation can breathe a sigh of relief.    This does not affect them,” Johansson told a news conference, adding he wanted minor changes to the proposals before putting them to parliament.
    Rents in Sweden are set in a form of collective bargaining and people opposed to the system claim it makes it unprofitable to build new for-rent apartments.    Johansson said the reform would only relate to apartments built after 2022.
    Sweden has had a housing shortage for decades and the central bank has repeatedly described the housing market as dysfunctional.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by David Holmes)

6/8/2021 Genocide Conviction Upheld Against Former Bosnian Serb Military Chief Mladic by Stephanie van den Berg and Anthony Deutsch
Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic gestures prior to the pronouncement of his appeal judgement at the
UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands June 8, 2021. Peter Dejong/Pool via REUTERS
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) -United Nations war crimes judges on Tuesday upheld a genocide conviction and life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, confirming his central role in Europe’s worst atrocities since World War Two.
    Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.    He was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorising the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, and the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys taken prisoner in the eastern town of Srebrenica in 1995.
    “His name should be consigned to the list of history’s most depraved and barbarous figures,” chief tribunal prosecutor Serge Brammertz said after the verdict.    He urged all officials in the ethnically divided region of former Yugoslavia to condemn the ex-general.
    Mladic, who had contested both the guilty verdict and life sentence at his trial, wore a dress shirt and black suit and stood looking at the floor as the appeals judgment was read out in court in The Hague.
    The appeals chamber “dismisses Mladic appeal in its entirety…, dismisses the prosecution’s appeal in its entirety…, affirms the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mladic by the trial chamber,” presiding judge Prisca Nyambe said.
    The outcome caps 25 years of trials at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which convicted 90 people.    The ICTY is one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes court, also seated in The Hague.
    “I hope that with this Mladic judgment children in (Bosnia’s Serb-run entity) Republika Srpska and children in Serbia who are living in lies will read this,” Munira Subasic, whose son and husband were killed by Serb forces that overran Srebrenica, said after the ruling, highlighting Serb genocide denial.
    Many Serbs still regard Mladic as a hero, not a criminal.
    Post-war Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, now chairing Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, denounced the verdict.    “It’s clear to us there is an attempt here to create a myth about genocide that never occurred,” Dodik said.
    In Washington, the White House praised the work of the U.N. tribunals in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
    “This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable.    It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world,” it said in a statement.
    The appeals judges said Mladic, who after his ICTY indictment was a fugitive for 16 years until his 2011 capture, would remain in custody in The Hague while arrangements were made for his transfer to a state where he will serve his sentence.    It is not yet known which country will take him.
    Lawyers for Mladic had argued that the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates.    They sought an acquittal or a retrial.
    Prosecutors had asked the appeals panel to uphold Mladic’s conviction and life sentence in full.
    They also wanted him to be found guilty of an additional charge of genocide over a campaign of ethnic cleansing – a drive to expel Bosnian Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs in order to carve out a Greater Serbia – in the early years of the war that included brutal detention camps that shocked the world.
    That prosecution appeal was also dismissed. The 2017 verdict found that the ethnic cleansing campaign amounted to persecution – a crime against humanity – but not genocide.
    United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday the final Mladic ruling meant the international justice system had held him to account.
    “Mladic’s crimes were the abhorrent culmination of hatred stoked for political gain,” Bachelet said in a statement.
    The lower ICTY court ruled Mladic was part of “a criminal conspiracy” with Bosnian Serb political leaders.    It also found he was in “direct contact” with then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 shortly before the verdict in his own ICTY trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
    Mladic was judged to have played a decisive role in some of the most gruesome crimes committed on European soil since the Nazi Holocaust of World War Two.
    The tribunal determined that Mladic was pivotal in the Srebrenica slaughter – which occurred in a U.N.-designated “safe area” for civilians – since he controlled both the military and police units involved.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Fedja Grulovic in Banja Luka, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Doina Chiacu in Washington; editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/8/2021 Mladic Verdict Reveals Bosnia’s Divisions, Lack Of Reconciliation by Dado Ruvic
A Bosnian Muslim woman touches a gravestone at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial
in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SREBRENICA (Reuters) – Survivors and relatives of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday after U.N. war crimes judges upheld the genocide conviction and life sentence of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic.
    “We have been anxious about what will happen for the past month but we are pleased.    Thank God it’s over,” said Mida Osmanovic, after watching with other women a public broadcast of the court’s verdict at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre.
    “It gives us some satisfaction but even more distress,” Osmanovic added, recalling how it made her relive her experiences 26 years earlier.
    She and other women who lost their male relatives in the massacre considered Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two walked among the 6,600 white tombstones at Srebrenica cemetery marking the graves of their murdered relatives.
    “The majority of my family is here,” Osmanovic said pointing to the tombstones.
    Mladic, 78, who led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, had appealed against his 2017 conviction on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and his life sentence but the appeals chamber dismissed his appeal and affirmed the sentence of life imprisonment.
    The verdict caps 25 years of trials at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which convicted 90 people for the crimes committed in the Bosnian war in which about 100,000 died and 2 million were displaced.
    But Bosnia’s Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats still see the war through opposing lenses.
    Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is currently chairing Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, criticised the judgement as unfair, saying the ICTY was biased against Serbs and its rulings undermined the trust in international justice.
    “It’s clear to us there is an attempt here to create a myth about genocide in Srebrenica which has never occurred,” Dodik said.
    Most Serbs deny that genocide happened and say that Mladic was a Serb defender and a hero.
    “I think the Hague tribunal has been probably designed from the beginning as a court that would a priori judge one side, that is us … and I simply do not expect any justice, nothing,” said Bojan Stojnic, an economist, in Banja Luka, the largest Bosnian Serb city.
    But Muslim Bosniaks, who suffered the greatest losses in the 1992-95 war, welcomed the ruling.
    “It is important that his crimes from the last war have been named before the whole world,” said Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak member of the country’s presidency.    “The verdicts by international courts will have to be respected and implemented.”
(Additional reporting by Fedja Grulovic in Banja Luka and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

6/8/2021 Navalny’s Daughter Says Kremlin Can’t Silence Its Critics by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his daughter Daria meet with journalists outside a polling station
during the Moscow city parliament election in Moscow, Russia September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The daughter of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday that the Russian authorities’ efforts to silence critics like her father would not work, though she also expressed concern about “the fast downfall of democracy in my country.”
    Daria Navalnaya made an unusual public appearance at a virtual human rights summit where she accepted a ‘moral courage’ award on behalf of her father, who is serving a 2-1/2 year jail term. Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s leading critics, says the charges against him were trumped up to thwart his opposition to the Kremlin, something it denies.
    “For all these years, he (Navalny) has been showing the people in power, who are shamelessly abusing that power, that this is not going to work, that we are the majority,” said Navalnaya, speaking from the United States.    “We, the citizens, will decide who is going to rule our country and for how long.”
    In her speech, delivered in English, 20-year-old Navalnaya described herself “as a proud daughter and as a Russian citizen, concerned about the fast downfall of democracy in my country
    She spoke of her feelings of fear and helplessness as a child when her home was raided by the police and also of how she supported her father last year while he was recovering in hospital after a serious illness by watching Netflix with him.
    Navalny was treated in Germany for what German doctors said was poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent.    He accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin denies.
    Navalnaya said her father had written to her from jail asking for the award at the event organised by the Geneva-based group UN Watch to be dedicated to political prisoners in Russia and in its ally Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko is also accused of jailing opponents.
    “Most of them (the political prisoners) are in a much worse situation compared to me because they’re not as well-known or famous.    But they should know that they are not alone or forgotten about,” said Navalnaya, quoting her father.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Gareth Jones)

6/8/2021 Russian Opposition Activist Charged, Could Face Six Years In Jail: Ally
FILE PHOTO: Andrei Pivovarov, who was then chief of the Open Russia pro-democracy group, attends a forum of independent members of municipal
councils in Moscow, Russia March 13, 2021. Picture taken March 13, 2021. Kommersant Photo/Alexander Miridonov via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia charged opposition activist Andrei Pivovarov on Tuesday with taking part in an “undesirable” organisation, an offence which an ally said was punishable by up to six years in jail.
    Pivovarov was director of Open Russia, a pro-democracy group that is linked to exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
    Open Russia said last month it was ceasing operations in Russia to protect its staff from a crackdown on the opposition.
    Pivovarov was arrested days later, after police hauled him off a plane in St Petersburg that was about to take off for Poland.
    He was flown to southern Russia where a court ordered him to be held in custody for two months pending trial.
    Pivovarov has said the case is politically motivated and aimed at stopping him taking part in a parliamentary election in September.    The Kremlin denies the case is political.
    Russia declared the London-based Open Russia group “undesirable” in 2017, in effect banning its activities.
    Tatyana Usmanova, a former coordinator at Open Russia, has said the allegation against Pivovarov relates to a Facebook post from a year ago voicing support for candidates running in municipal elections.    He could face up to six years in jail if convicted, she said.
    Police have also opened a new criminal case against him, accusing him of failing to register one of his groups as a “foreign agent,” Pivovarov’s Telegram account said.    That is punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 roubles ($4,150), it said.
($1 = 72.3600 roubles)
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/8/2021 U.N. Rights Chief And Genocide Prevention Adviser Welcome Mladic Conviction
Fatma Aktas, director of Avrasya foundation Holland, holds a sign ahead of the final judgment of
former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic in his appeal judgement at the U.N. International Residual Mechanism
for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday that a ruling upholding the conviction of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic for genocide and war crimes meant the international justice system had held him to account.
    United Nations war crimes judges in The Hague upheld a life sentence for Mladic, who led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, rejecting all grounds of his appeal.
    “Mladic’s crimes were the abhorrent culmination of hatred stoked for political gain,” Bachelet said in a statement.
    “Today’s decision is about his individual responsibility for his dreadful acts, not about collective punishment or apportioning guilt to any particular community.”
    Alice Wairimu Nderitu, special adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General on prevention of genocide, said in the joint statement issued in Geneva that the verdict sent an important message to the western Balkans, where “genocide denial” was on the rise.
    Posters, graffiti, plaques, paraphernalia and other materials glorifying war criminals continue to appear in various towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including in Foca, where survivors are confronted with a mural portraying Mladic, the statement said.
    “Justice alone will not lead to reconciliation, but there can be no real reconciliation without justice,” Nderitu said.    “For this reason, accountability constitutes an important step on the path towards reconciliation and therefore a critical component of prevention.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/8/2021 Moscow Reins In Speeding Electric Scooters As Accidents Grow
People ride electric scooters in Moscow, Russia June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authorities in Moscow are imposing speed limits for electric scooters that whiz across the city, often on pavements, as calls for action grow following a string of accidents.
    Muscovites have hired the scooters more than 1.2 million times since early April and are expected to continue flocking to rental services until the autumn.
    But this has worried city authorities as scooter accidents increase, including one in St. Petersburg that left David Zaleyev, a dancer from the Mariinsky Ballet, temporarily in a coma.
    To control the scooters, which are tracked by GPS, Moscow has imposed a speed limit of 15 kph (9 mph) in the city centre.    When rented scooters enter the area, they are programmed to automatically slow to that speed.
    With interest in scooters growing, the city transport department said it could make more areas subject to speed limits.
    “Pedestrians can sustain serious injuries if they are hit by scooters,” Maxim Kadakov, editor of the car magazine Za Rulyom (Behind the Wheel), told Reuters.
    “Under current laws electric scooters have the same status as pedestrians but they are 10 times faster.”
    Moscow’s fleet of rental scooters is expected to double to 20,000 by the end of the year to meet demand, transport official Magomed Kolgayev said.
(Reporting by Dmitry Turlyun; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/8/2021 Joe Biden Set To Make His First Foreign Trip Since Taking Office by OAN Newsroom
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on June 07, 2021 shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and President Joe Biden
in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Angela WEISS and Alexey DRUZHININ / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS,ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden has scheduled his first foreign trip since taking office, with hopes to repair relationships with traditional allies and partners.
    Biden will begin his trip meeting with NATO allies and other G7 leaders in Europe.    Discussions are expected to focus on relations with China and Russia, as well as the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    Following his summit with allies, Biden is slated to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.    The face-to-face meeting will take place in Geneva, with expected discussions including nuclear proliferation, the COVID-19 outbreak and the recent rise in cyberattacks.    While Biden anticipated to confront Putin, expectations for any substantial developments are low.
    “There’s no sort of delusions that something’s going to come out of this meeting with Putin,” explained White House reporter Aamer Madhani.    “The idea is that he clearly and deliberately says face to face to Putin what his concerns are and makes clear that he expects them to knock it off.”
    Biden will depart for Europe on Wednesday and be making his first stop across the pond in the U.K.

6/9/2021 Dutch Court Reads Evidence MH17 Airliner Shot Down From Russian-Made ‘Buk’ Missile System by OAN Newsroom
Long Description - Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis, right, and other trial judges and lawyers view the reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines
Flight MH17, at the Gilze-Rijen military airbase, southern Netherlands, Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)
    An international court found Malaysian Airliner MH17, which crashed in Eastern Ukraine back in 2014, was shot down with an air defense missile.    The judge read the evidence in a hearing in the Netherlands on Tuesday, saying the airliner was shot down from a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system called Buk.
    The case named three Russians and one Ukrainian citizen as the perpetrators.    MH17 went down in Eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board in July of 2014 during early stages of the war between Russia and Ukraine.    The Buk missile in question apparently belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.
    “Experts have stated that the impact on the hull of the plane is compatible with a Buk missile system and a Buk warhead,” stated presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis.    “No damage was found that would not be compatible with that scenario or that would indicate another scenario, for instance, medium calibre or lighter missile systems or a much heavier missile system.”
    According to reports, pro-Kremlin separatists allegedly shot down the airliner because they had mistaken it for a Ukrainian military aircraft.    Meanwhile, Russia has denied its involvement in the tragedy.

6/9/2021 Bulgaria’s GERB Party Keeps Slim Lead Before July Election
FILE PHOTO: A street cleaner carries a broom near election posters of Boyko Borissov, Bulgarian Prime Minister and leader
of centre-right GERB party in Bankya, near Sofia, Bulgaria, March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Spasiyana Sergieva/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party has a slim lead over the anti-establishment ITN before a July 11 election, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.
    It maintained its lead despite a drop in support since the United States imposed sanctions on two Bulgarian oligarchs and four former and current officials over alleged corruption on June 2.
    The parliamentary election next month was called after an April 4 election resulted in a deadlocked parliament that failed to produce a government.    The president has appointed a caretaker cabinet to lead the Balkan country until the July election.
    After being in office for most of the past decade, GERB remains the most popular party with 20.3% support, down from 26.2% in the April election, according to an opinion poll carried out by independent pollster Alpha Research between May 30 and June 7 among 1,007 people.
    “After the sanctions… the vote for GERB decreased by 2%, which is its most significant decline for such a short period,” Alpha Research said.
    GERB, led by three-time prime minister Boyko Borissov, won more votes than any other party in the April election but not enough to govern alone.    Other parties refused to join it in a coalition amid widespread public anger over corruption in the European Union’s poorest member state.
    ITN (There Is Such a People), led by TV talk show host Slavi Trifonov, had 18.2% support in the new opinion poll compared to 17.7% in the April election.
    The new opinion poll suggested that neither GERB, nor ITN will be able to win an outright majority in parliament.
    The survey put the Socialists on 14.4%. The anti-corruption Democratic Bulgaria alliance and the ethnic Turkish MRF were seen winning 11.9% and 9.9% respectively.
    Another protest party, Rise Up! Mafia Out!, was on 5.3%, the survey showed.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/9/2021 EU Commission Sues Poland Over Public Procurement Rules
FILE PHOTO: European Union and Poland's flags flutter at the Orlen refinery in Mazeikiai, Lithuania April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission announced on Wednesday it was suing Poland in the EU’s top court for failure to fully apply EU public procurement rules.
    The Commission said Polish laws exempted two categories of contracts from the application of the public procurement rules: contracts for the production and distribution of certain public documents and contracts for the provision of bank resolution services.
    “While the EU public procurement directives allow for certain exemptions for contracts to be awarded without a competitive call for tenders, the Commission considers that these do not apply to the broad categories of contracts exempted by the Polish law,” the Commission said.
    “The Commission considers that the Polish exemptions for the production and distribution of public documents and bank resolution services infringe EU law,” it said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski)

6/9/2021 EU Commission Sues Czechia, Poland Over EU Citizens’ Electoral Rights
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission took Poland and the Czechia to court on Wednesday over their laws that ban citizens from other EU countries from joining a political party and standing in local or European elections in the two EU members.
    “As a result of this restriction, citizens from other EU Member States residing in Czechia or Poland cannot fully exercise their right to stand as candidates in local elections and in elections to the European Parliament under the same conditions as nationals of those States,” the Commission said.
    “The Commission maintains that the restrictions hindering non-Czech and non-Polish EU citizens in Czechia and Poland respectively to join a political party are contrary to EU law as they breach … the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality,” the EU executive arm said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski)

6/99/2021 EU Commission Starts Legal Action Against Belgium Over Privacy Watchdog
FILE PHOTO: The Belgian flag is seen outside Brussels Royal Palace during negotiations
to form a government, in Brussels Belgium September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission on Wednesday launched the first step of legal action against Belgium for failing to ensure the independence of its privacy watchdog in breach of EU privacy rules.
    “Some of its members cannot be regarded as free from external influence because they either report to a management committee depending on the Belgian government,” the EU executive said, referring the Belgian data protection authority.
    It said the agency’s members also take part in governmental projects on COVID-19 contact tracing or they are members of the Information Security Committee.
    Belgium has two months to detail measures taken to ensure the agency’s independence.    The Commission’s letter is the first stage in a process that can ultimately lead to it asking the EU’s Court of Justice to impose penalties.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee and Marine Strauss)

6/9/2021 Biden, Putin Set To Meet In 18th-Century Swiss Villa For Summit by Stephanie Nebehay
Security officers stand outside the Villa La Grange, ahead of the June 16 summit between U.S. President Joe Biden
and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Geneva, Switzerland, June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to hold their June 16 summit in an 18th-century Swiss villa overlooking Lake Geneva, a soothing setting for what promises to be heated talks.
    Bitter disputes over election interference, cyber attacks, human rights and Ukraine hang over their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office on Jan 20.
    Strategic nuclear stability and regional conflicts will be on the table.    Biden, who was due to arrive in Britain on Wednesday at the start of his first trip abroad, has said he would press Putin to respect human rights. [nL2N2NQ2SP]
    Putin said last Friday he expected the talks to be held in a positive atmosphere, though he anticipated no breakthrough.
    He added that allegations that Russian hackers were behind a cyber attack that disrupted meat production in North America and Australia were an attempt to provoke a political row ahead of the summit, Interfax news agency reported.
    Diplomatic sources expect confirmation of the Geneva venue later on Wednesday.    The Swiss police and army have closed the two parks surrounding the Villa La Grange and installed barricades and barbed wire.
    Neutral Switzerland, which did not join Western sanctions against Russia for its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine, lobbied hard to land the first big power summit in the Alpine country in decades.
    In the Cold War era, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held their first summit in Geneva in Nov. 1985 and agreed to pursue cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
    In Geneva in 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a yellow box bearing a red “reset” button to symbolise improved ties under President Barack Obama.    But the word “reset” was mistranslated into the Russian word for “overcharge,” creating an awkward moment.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Lavrov will accompany Biden and Putin.
    The classic villa is located in a park along the left bank. Dotted with redwood trees, rose bushes and ancient fountains, the park offers a stunning view of Lake Geneva and sailboats.
    Biden is also scheduled to hold talks with Swiss President Guy Parmelin.
    Switzerland has represented U.S. interests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, often facilitating the transfer of prisoners between the two foes.    Tax issues are likely to be raised after Biden referred to Switzerland as a “fiscal paradise” in April.
(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Denis Balibouse; editing by Michael Shields and Alexandra Hudson)

6/9/2021 Belarus Opposition Leader Wants International Tribunal To Probe Lukashenko
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks at Czech Senate in
Prague, Czech Republic, June 9, 2021. Roman Vondrous/Pool via Reuters
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on Wednesday for an international tribunal to be set up to investigate what she called the “crimes” of President Alexander Lukashenko’s “dictatorship.”
    Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus since rising to power in 1994, and has cracked down on street protests that began last year over a presidential election which his opponents say was rigged so that he could retain power.
    Lukashenko, who denies electoral fraud and dismisses criticism of his human rights record, extended the crackdown on Tuesday by signing legislation on tougher punishment, including prison sentences, for people who take part in protests or insult state officials.
    “I call for an international tribunal to be set up which would investigate the crimes of Lukashenko’s dictatorship in the past and during the election in 2020,” Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, told the Czech Senate.
    Tsikhanouskaya, who met Czech President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babis during her visit to the Czech Republic, gave no other details of her proposal.
    She said the only solution to the situation in Belarus was holding free elections with international monitors.
    Tsikhanouskaya was visiting Prague before a summit of the Group of Seven advanced economies in Britain this week at which Belarus is expected to be discussed.
    The former Soviet republic outraged Western countries last month by ordering a Ryanair flight to land in the capital Minsk and arresting a dissident journalist who was on board.
    Lukashenko has dismissed Western criticism over the incident, and accused Western countries of waging a “hybrid war” against him.    The United States and the European Union are preparing to tighten sanctions on Belarus over the plane incident.
(Reporting by Robert Muller, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/9/2021 Russia Says Few Outstanding Issues Left To Agree For Revival Of Iran Deal: RIA
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the
Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday there were few outstanding issues left to resolve in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal and that there were no longer any insurmountable obstacles left, the RIA news agency reported.
    World powers have been negotiating in Vienna with Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/9/2021 Albania’s Parliament Votes To Sack President
FILE PHOTO: Albanian President Ilir Meta delivers a speech during a news conference
in Tirana, Albania June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Albania’s parliament voted on Wednesday to sack President Ilir Meta over statements which the ruling party said advocated violence and violated the constitution.
    Some 104 of parliament’s 140 deputies voted for Meta to be dismissed more than a year before the end of his term, the first time this has happened in Albania since the multi-party system was introduced in 1991.
    The Constitutional Court, whose approval is needed to formalise parliament’s decision, is expected to rule within three months.
    The Socialist Party, which was re-elected in April, has accused Meta of fomenting violence by siding with opposition parties in alleging before the parliamentary election that it would be rigged.
    One person was killed and four were injured in a gunfight between supporters of the two major parties, the Socialists and the Democrats, four days before the election.
    Meta, formerly the head of the small opposition Socialist Movement for Integration, has denied any wrongdoing and accuses the Socialists of orchestrating a political vendetta.
    He had no immediate comment after the vote, but had previously said he would not obey it.
    The role of president is largely symbolic, though it has some powers over the judiciary and the military.
    Prime Minister Edi Rama, once an ally of Meta’s, said it was time for him to go.
    “Ilir Meta has violated the vital boundary of separation between the powers in our democracy,” he said before the vote.    “Albania cannot put up with him anymore.”
    Meta entered politics in 1999, when he was elected prime minister at the age of 30.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Kevin Liffey)

6/9/2021 U.S. Envoy Says Lukashenko Has Little Sway Over Russian Military In Belarus
Julie Fisher, U.S. ambassador-designate to Belarus, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing
on "U.S. Policy on Belarus" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko no longer is in a position to have influence over Russian military actions in his country because of his dependence on Moscow, U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher said on Wednesday.
    Russia and Belarus are planning a record number of military exercises this year, according to some experts.    The defense ministries have signed a five-year strategic partnership agreement and there have been reports that the two countries are planning to open three new joint military bases.
    “It is Lukashenko, his willingness to increase dependency on Russia in every possible sphere, that has brought him to the point of being in no position, really, to barely have a say in what it is Russia would decide to do militarily,” Fisher told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told the hearing that Lukashenko’s escalating crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and independent media “is turning my country into the North Korea of Europe – non-transparent, unpredictable and dangerous.”
    Tsikhanouskaya, widely regarded as the victor in a 2020 election that Lukashenko claims to have won, also called on the United States to expand sanctions against businessmen and state-run enterprises that “finance the regime.”
(Reporting by Jonathan LandayEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Will Dunham)

6/11/2021 Sweden Sees ‘Dark Clouds’ With Outbreaks Of COVID Delta Variant
FILE PHOTO: People wait to get a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a night club which was turned into a
mass vaccination center, in Stockholm, Sweden, April 16, 2021. Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT News Agency/via REUTERS /File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Swedish health officials warned on Friday of worrying local outbreaks of the COVID delta variant and urged people to get vaccinated to avoid a fourth wave of the pandemic.
    Sweden, an outlier in the fight against the pandemic with its no-lockdown policy, has seen a steep decline in cases and hospitalisations in the past month after surges in infections in the spring.
    Close to half the adult population has received at least one vaccine shot but the health agency warned that people who had only received one shot were less protected against the delta variant.
    “There are some dark clouds on the horizon and I think mainly of outbreaks of the delta variant.    It is found in Europe and also locally in Sweden,” agency director general Johan Carlson told a news conference.
    The Delta variant, first identified in India, is believed by UK epidemiologists to be 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which was previously dominant in Britain, in part because vaccines are less effective against it.
    So far, only 71 cases of the variant have been confirmed in Sweden but it has prompted the agency to step up contact tracing.    The delta variant accounts for around 90% of new cases in the UK.
    On Thursday, Sweden reported 831 new cases and three deaths.    The total death toll of more than 14,500 has been higher than in other Nordic countries but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/11/2021 Swiss Deploy Army, Repair Villa For Biden-Putin Summit by Stephanie Nebehay
A police van is seen outside Villa La Grange ahead of the June 16 summit between U.S. President Joe Biden
and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Geneva, Switzerland, June 11, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Switzerland said on Friday it was tightening security on Friday ahead of next week’s summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, deploying thousands of police and troops in Geneva to guard against any terrorist threat.
    Biden and Putin are to meet at the Villa La Grange along Lake Geneva on June 16, their first face-to-face since Biden took office, for what promises to be heated talks on issues from nuclear arms control to cyber attacks.
    “We are on the eve of a historic moment,” Stephane Theimer, deputy director of Swiss federal police, told reporters at the park surrounding the 18th-century villa, as a Swiss army helicopter did a flyover.
    “The terrorist threat in Switzerland and in Europe remains high. Other threats from violent extremist groups are also relevant,” he said.    “We are on high alert with a significant deployment of forces.”
    The federal government in Bern on Friday declared a temporary restriction on Geneva air space from June 15 to 17.    Local authorities, who have put barricades and barbed wire around the park, said they would shut down the lakefront city centre.
    “The lakefront will be completely locked down on the 16th, for about 24 hours – no pedestrians, no vehicles, no boats,” said Francois Waridel, head of Geneva police operations.
    Some 3,000 to 3,500 police will guard the villa, Cointrin airport, diplomatic missions and hotels, he told Reuters.
    The stately grey villa, which houses a collection of ancient leather-bound books, and its 30-hectare (nearly 75-acre) park, offer a stunning view of Lake Geneva.
    Federica Orth, a restorer dressed in a paint-splashed white smock, stood on a ladder at the entry to apply paint to gold cornices near the ceiling.    “We didn’t have time to do restoration, we are doing touch-ups,” she said.
    A large ground-floor room, featuring a crystal chandelier, rectangular wooden table with yellow silk chairs and a black marble fireplace, could be the main meeting room, but officials said all rooms would be used.
    “The villa is symmetric, which is practical for meetings.    We can give each delegation the exact same number of rooms,” Marion Bordier Bueschi, acting head of Geneva protocol, told reporters.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/11/2021 We Are Here For You, EU Chief Prosecutor Tells Bulgarians
European Union's Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi arrives for a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, June 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – The European Union’s Chief Prosecutor told Bulgarians weary of corruption that they can send complaints about large-scale fraud linked to misuse of EU funds direct to her office.
    Laura Codruta Kovesi chose Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest and most corrupt country, for her first visit to a member state since the European Public Prosecutor’s Office started operations on June 1.
    “Everyone is equal in front of the law and we will make no distinction in who we will investigate … We are here for you. We want to earn your trust for our work,” Kovesi said in a message to Bulgarians at a news conference in Sofia.
    “If Bulgarian citizens have any knowledge of relevance to us they can report it directly to us via our website,” she said.
    Many in Bulgaria hope that Kovesi, who made her name as a successful anti-corruption prosecutor in Romania, will investigate corruption in their country and show that Brussels is serious about rooting it out.
    Bulgaria has yet to convict any high-level official on corruption charges.
    Kovesi’s visit came as activists protested against Bulgarian chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev, whom they blame for refusing to investigate high-level corruption and fostering a climate of impunity.
    A small group of protesters chanting “Geshev is disgrace” and displaying slogans reading “Geshev=Mafia” waited for Kovesi at the offices of the EU commission in Sofia.
    Kovesi declined to comment on the protests.
    She said Sofia should choose new prosecutors to join her office, after six of Bulgaria’s ten nominations were rejected, and urged local prosecutors to hand over all ongoing investigations into major crimes that affect the EU budget.
    The United States this month imposed sanctions on three Bulgarians and 64 companies linked to them over alleged corruption.     Many Bulgarians welcome the U.S. sanctions, but feel bitter that Bulgaria and the European Union failed to act first.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/11/2021 Swiss Plan To Ease Entry, Loosen Public Life As Virus Cases Wane
FILE PHOTO: Guests sit outside of a restaurant, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
continues, in the old town of Zurich, May 22, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland plans to ease entry restrictions this month and further open up public life as COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the government said on Friday.
    Only people arriving from countries with worrying levels of coronavirus mutations would be in focus, and they could enter without testing as of June 28 as long as they had been vaccinated or recovered from a coronavirus infection, it said.
    It was due to make a final decision on June 23, when it would also rule whether to go ahead with a fifth wave of re-opening measures, including abolishing the requirement to wear masks in public.
    Seating limits at restaurants would also rise from June 28, and discos and dance clubs could reopen to people with COVID certificates.    Stores, recreational areas and sports venues would also be allowed to raise their capacity.
    More than 700,000 people in Switzerland and tiny neighbour Liechtenstein have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year, and more than 10,000 have died of it, public health show.
(Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by John Revill)

6/12/2021 Putin Says Relations With U.S. At Lowest Point In Years
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic
Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 4, 2021. Sputnik/Vladimir Smirnov/Kremlin via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview with NBC News ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden next week, said U.S.-Russia relations are at their lowest point in years.
    Putin and Biden will meet in Geneva on Wednesday.    The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia, Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine, the jailing of dissidents and other issues that have irritated the relationship.
    “We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” Putin said, according to an NBC translation of excerpts of an interview broadcast on Friday.
    Putin praised former President Donald Trump as “an extraordinary individual, talented individual,” and said Biden, as a career politician, was “radically different” from Trump.
    Asked about Biden calling him a killer in an interview in March, Putin said he had heard dozens of such accusations.    “This is not something I worry about in the least,” Putin said.
    Biden, at the start of an eight-day visit to Europe this week, said: “We’re not seeking conflict with Russia.”
    “We want a stable and predictable relationship … but I’ve been clear: The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way if the Russian government engages in harmful activities.”
    Putin was asked about several Russian dissidents whose deaths have been blamed on Moscow, including ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in 2006.    Putin dismissed the question as “verbal indigestion
.“    He said some of those responsible for the deaths are in prison.
    On the issue of recent ransomware attacks that the United States has traced to Russia, Putin denied any knowledge of the hackings and called on Biden to reach an agreement with him on cyberspace, NBC News said.
    Putin also dismissed a report in the Washington Post this week that Russia was preparing to supply Iran with an advanced satellite that would enable it to track potential military targets across the Middle East.
    “It’s just fake news.    At the very least, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing,” Putin said, according to NBC News.    “It’s just nonsense garbage.”
(Reporting by Eric Beech and Mohammad Zargham; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Cynthia Osterman)

6/12/2021 Azerbaijan Swaps 15 Armenian Prisoners For Map Showing Landmines
Azerbaijani service members walk during mine lifting in Agdam town in the region of
Nagorno-Karabakh, November 24, 2020. Picture taken November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Azerbaijan said on Saturday it had handed over 15 Armenian prisoners in exchange for a map detailing the location of landmines in Agdam, a region relinquished by ethnic Armenian forces as a part of a deal to end a six-week war last year.
    A Russian-brokered ceasefire halted fighting that saw the Azeri army drive ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    Irregular skirmishes continue, highlighting the fragility of the ceasefire.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the news and said he hoped it would lay the groundwork for more cooperation.
    “We continue to call for the return of all detainees and stand ready to assist the countries of the region in their efforts to continue cooperation and resolve outstanding issues between them,” Blinken said in a statement.
    The prisoner exchange deal, the first agreement of its kind between the two countries, was announced by the Azeri Foreign Ministry.
    Prisoners of war are a key issue for Armenia, while landmines continue to inflict casualties in Azerbaijan.
    Two journalists and a local official were killed on June 4 when a landmine exploded in Azerbaijan’s Kalbajar district on territory that was vacated by ethnic Armenian forces in November.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Helen Popper and Daniel Wallis)

6/12/2021 President Vladimir Putin: Russia-U.S. Relations At ‘Lowest Point In Recent Years’ by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his country’s relationship with the U.S. has deteriorated under the Biden administration’s leadership.    During an interview on Friday, Putin described the relationship to be at its lowest point in recent years.
    Putin went on to compare Joe Biden to President Trump by saying the two are vastly different politicians.    He referred to Trump as an “extraordinary, talented individual” and described him as polarizing.    The Russian President said this was because Trump didn’t stem from a traditional political background and wasn’t a career politician like Biden.
    “President Biden, of course, is radically different from Trump because President Biden is a career man. He has spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics,” he explained.    “Just think of the number of years he spent in the Senate, a different kind of person.”
Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russiain in 2011. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    Biden has expressed his goals for rebuilding a relationship with Russia that is secure and predictable.    Although Biden hopes to avoid any conflict with the Russian President, he assures the U.S. will be stern with the Russian government for any detrimental activity.
    While Biden and Putin are expected to meet on Wednesday, critics are skeptical the encounter will lead to a major breakthrough for the two nations.

6/13/2021 Russian Held In Jail Over Faked Suicide ‘Protest Performance’ On Red Square
FILE PHOTO: Investigators work in Red Square after opposition activist Pavel Krisevich reportedly simulated shooting
himself in the head in a political protest, in Moscow, Russia June 11, 2021. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Sunday ordered an anti-Kremlin performance artist to be held in custody for two months on suspicion of hooliganism after he was arrested on Red Square where he had simulated shooting himself in the head in a political protest.
    The activist, Pavel Krisevich, was detained on Friday after firing blanks into the air and then at his head, according to one of his friends.
    The Open Media news outlet reported that Krisevich had prepared a manifesto beforehand that said the performance was designed to draw attention to what he cast as unacceptable state repression.
    Authorities have cracked down hard on anti-Kremlin activism this year, declaring jailed politician Alexei Navalny’s activist network “extremist” and prosecuting several of his allies.
    Moscow police said they had opened a criminal case into hooliganism over the Red Square appearance.
    A court on Sunday ordered Krisevich to be held in jail until August 2021, the Interfax news agency said.
    His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.
    A journalist, Nika Samusik, who had filmed the stunt was also detained on Red Square on Friday, but was released on Sunday, according to the OVD-Info protest monitor.
    Krisevich was jailed last year for 15 days over another protest performance in which he simulated crucifying himself near the central Moscow headquarters of the FSB Federal Security Service.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/14/2021 Putin On Successor: Ready To Support Critic If He Is True To Russia
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to present the Russian Hero of Labour gold medals
and national awards at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin has told U.S. television network NBC that, when asked about plans for a successor, he is ready to support someone who is faithful to the country even if he is critical of the president.
    “If I see an individual, even if he is critical of some of my activities, but I see that the individual…is faithful to the country…, whatever his attitude towards me is, I would do everything to support such people,” the Kremlin website quoted Putin as saying.
    Putin has dominated Russian politics since 2000.    In April he signed a law that could keep him in office in the Kremlin until 2036, when he would be 83, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms once his current stint ends in 2024.
    Putin gave an interview to NBC ahead of his first meeting with Joe Biden as U.S. president in Geneva this week, at a time of the worst tensions in the relationship between Russia and the United States since the Cold War era.
    “President Biden is fundamentally different from (former U.S. President Donald) Trump, because he is a career man, he has spent almost his entire adulthood in politics,” Putin said, according to an interview transcript released by the Kremlin.
    “My great hope is that…there wouldn’t be any impulsive moves from the (current) president, that we will stick to certain rules of communication, we will be able to agree on something,” Putin added.
    The NBC TV crew had to quarantine for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic before they could meet Putin, journalist Keir Simmons told the Russian leader during the interview.
    Biden, who called Putin “a killer” in March, said on Sunday some of Russia’s activities contradict international norms.    Washington said Russian authorities or Russian hacking groups were behind recent cyber attacks on companies working in the United States.
    Asked if Russia was waging a cyber war against the United States, Putin replied: “Where is the proof?    I can give an answer to such unproven accusations: You can complain to the International League of Sexual Reforms.    Are you okay with that?
    Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is expected to be a matter of dispute at the Putin-Biden summit.
    Putin again avoided referring to the opposition leader by name and gave no direct answer to a question about whether he could promise that Navalny would leave prison alive.
    “I proceed from the premise that the person that you have mentioned, the same kind of measures will apply to that person, not in any way worse than those applied to anybody else who happens to be in prison,” Putin said.
(Reporting by Maria TsvetkovaEditing by Mark Heinrich)

6/14/2021 Zelenskiy To Biden: Give Us Clear ‘Yes’ Or ‘No’ On Ukraine NATO Path by Pavel Polityuk and Sergiy Karazy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy walks in for an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday he wants a clear “yes” or “no” from U.S. President Joe Biden on giving Ukraine a plan to join the NATO military alliance.
    In a joint interview with Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Press, Zelenskiy said he received assurances that Biden would not use Ukraine as a bargaining tool in his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week.
    He called on the United States to provide economic support to Ukraine and urged both Biden and the International Monetary Fund to be understanding of Ukraine’s problems before placing “unfair” reform demands on his presidency.
    “If we are talking about NATO and the MAP, I would really like to get (from Biden) specifics – yes or no,” Zelenskiy said, referring to the     Membership Action Plan given to candidate countries, a status which Ukraine has long sought.    “We must get clear dates and the likelihood of this for Ukraine.”
    He was speaking on the same day as NATO members met for a one-day summit in Brussels.    Ukraine has expressed disappointment in not being invited to the meeting.
    Zelenskiy has urged NATO members to accelerate Ukraine’s entry into the alliance after a standoff with Russia this year that saw Russia mass additional troops and military equipment near Ukraine’s borders.
    Zelenskiy said most of Russia’s troops had yet to withdraw, and that Russia was dragging its feet on facilitating a meeting with Putin for no clear reason.    About 11,000 troops had left and 95,000 remained, he estimated.
    Biden and Zelenskiy spoke by phone last week.    Zelenskiy was granted a long-sought invitation to visit the White House next month, though he said he regretted not being able to meet Biden in person before Biden met Putin this week.
    “He (Biden) said ‘I will never trade … Ukraine’s interests’,” Zelenskiy said.
    Zelenskiy said Ukraine had done everything necessary to earn a NATO membership plan, which Ukraine sees as a vital deterrent against Russia but Moscow fiercely opposes.
    “Every day we prove that we are ready to be in the alliance more than most of the countries of the European Union,” he said.
    He expects Ukraine to secure a much-delayed IMF tranche by the autumn though added Ukraine could still “live normally” without one.
    Zelenskiy did not rule out another flare-up in the coming months in Ukraine’s conflict with Russian-backed separatists, though in his assessment Russia was not looking to provoke a “full-scale war.”    Kyiv says the conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
    “Everyone should understand and be more flexible, understand that we are at war, that we are defending democracy in Europe and defending our country, and therefore you cannot just talk to us with phrases about reforms,” he said.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Sergiy KarazyWriting by Matthias WilliamsEditing by Peter Graff)

6/14/2021 Opposition Says Jailed Belarusian Blogger Paraded As ‘Trophy’ In Latest Public Appearance by Maria Tsvetkova
FILE PHOTO: Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, who is accused of participating in an unsanctioned protest
at the Kuropaty preserve, arrives for a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Jailed Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich appeared at a news conference in Minsk on Monday saying he felt fine and had not been beaten, in what the opposition said was another public appearance made under duress.
    Protasevich sat alongside four officials, two of whom were in uniform, saying he had not been made to cooperate with the authorities and that he was in good health after being arrested last month when his Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk.
    “Everything is fine with me.    Nobody beat me, nobody touched me,” he said.    “I understand the damage I have caused not only to the state, but also to the country.    Now I want to do everything in my power to rectify this situation.”
    Protasevich has made several appearances since his plane was forced to land in Minsk while on a May 23 flight from Greece to Lithuania via Belarusian air space. He has admitted to plotting to topple President Alexander Lukashenko by organising “riots” and recanted earlier criticism of the veteran leader.
    “No matter what he says, let’s not forget: he is a hostage. And the regime is using him as a trophy,” Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, wrote on Twitter.
    “This is not a press conference but a scene of either Kafka or Orwell.”
    Belarus of the Brain, the blogging outlet that Protasevich ran before his arrest, said his latest appearance was made under duress and showed the “strongest psychological pressure” being exerted on the 26-year-old.
    Previously, authorities said Protasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence.    They have maintained that televised confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.
    Protasevich’s arrest and the forced diversion of the Ryanair plane sparked uproar in the West, feeding calls for tougher sanctions to be put on Lukashenko’s government.
    In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown on mass protests after winning a sixth term in an election last year that his opponents say was blatantly rigged. He denies electoral fraud.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Giles Elgood and Mark Heinrich)

6/14/2021 At NATO, Lithuania Says Russia Trying To ‘Swallow’ Belarus
Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda arrives for the NATO summit at the Alliance's
headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Lithuania told a summit of NATO leaders on Monday that Russia was trying to “swallow” Belarus and that the Western military alliance needed to be united in deterring Moscow.
    “Belarus is losing the last elements of the independence, and those trends are very dangerous,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on arriving to the talks.
    “I would expect that (U.S.) President Biden will send a very clear message about the decisiveness and unity of NATO, and will react with very clear messages to what is happening,” he said, adding that NATO won’t have closer ties with Russia for as long as Moscow does not change its course.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by John Chalmers)

6/15/2021 Biden And Putin Summit: Where They Disagree And Where They Might Compromise by Humeyra Pamuk, Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/File Photo
    GENEVA/MOSCOW (Reuters) -Don’t expect a major breakthrough at a summit on Wednesday between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, given relations between Washington and Moscow are their most strained in years.
    “We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” a senior official told reporters aboard Air Force One.    The two leaders are expected to talk for four of five hours, the U.S. official said.
    Both leaders say they hope the Geneva meeting, their first in-person encounter since Biden became president in January, can lead to stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds over everything from Syria to Ukraine.
    Despite their disagreements, they could make some modest progress.
    Ransomware attacks by criminals reportedly linked to Russia that have twice targeted critical American infrastructure are a concern for the United States.
    The FBI has not disclosed any evidence showing Russian government involvement in the attacks on U.S. fuel transporter Colonial Pipeline Co and meatpacker JBS SA of Brazil, and Putin says the idea that Russia was responsible is absurd.
    But Biden intends to bring up the issue and has suggested he wants Russian authorities to crack down on such cybercriminals.    Putin has said Moscow would be willing to hand over suspects if any deal cuts both ways.
    Biden is also likely to raise U.S. concerns over Russian cyber meddling in U.S. politics, something Moscow, which is pushing for a cyber non-interference pact, denies.
    Biden has said his administration will prioritise the global promotion of human rights and democracy and not shy away from warning countries over their records.
    Washington has criticised Moscow over its treatment and alleged poisoning of Navalny, and says he should be freed.
    The Kremlin, which denies the poisoning, has said Russian politics is a domestic matter and Washington should stay out of it.    It says it will not take lectures from a country it casts as having many human rights problems of its own.
    The world’s two biggest nuclear powers are keen to talk arms control to ensure stable relations between their militaries.
    In February, they extended for five years the New START treaty, which limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers each can deploy.
    Moscow is keen on a longer extension that would include newer systems.
    After the 2019 demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia also wants to do a deal that neither side deploy certain land-based missiles in Europe.
    The United States has been Ukraine’s most powerful ally since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, a move that pushed Moscow’s ties with the West to post-Cold War lows.
    A build-up of Russian forces in Crimea and near Ukraine’s borders earlier this year worried Washington, which wants Russia to return Crimea and Kyiv to regain control of a swath of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
    NATO leaders on Monday reiterated a 2008 decision that Ukraine could one day join, but Biden said Kyiv had to root out corruption and meet other criteria first.
    Putin had said Ukraine was a “red line” and he wants Washington to steer clear.    He has baulked at the idea of Ukrainian membership of NATO, said Crimea is Russian, and told Kyiv it needs to talk to separatists in eastern Ukraine if it wants the territory back in any form.
    The status of foreign missions is one area where both sides believe there may be scope for progress.
    Russia recalled Anatoly Antonov, its ambassador to Washington, in March after Biden said he believed Putin was a “killer,” while John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, returned to Washington for consultations in April.
    An agreement for both diplomats to return to their posts would send a signal that some progress had been made.
    There may also be room for a mini-deal on visas and embassy staffing.
    Russia, in response to U.S. sanctions, has imposed limits on the number of local staff the U.S. embassy can employ, forcing Washington to cut consular services.
    It has also withdrawn from an agreement that eased restrictions on diplomats travelling around each other’s countries.
    Russia is holding former U.S. marine Paul Whelan on an espionage conviction, and Trevor Reed, another former U.S. marine, for an alleged assault on a police officer. Both deny wrongdoing.
    Their families have pressed for their release ahead of the summit.
    Asked if he would consider a prisoner swap, Putin told NBC News: “Yes, yes of course.”
    Whelan’s Russian lawyer has previously suggested Moscow would be interested in a deal that brought arms dealer Viktor Bout home as well as Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
    The Kremlin has said it expects Putin and Biden to discuss Belarus, a close Russian ally plunged into crisis last year when street protests erupted over what demonstrators said was a rigged presidential election.
    With Moscow’s help, veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko has so far ridden out the storm by carrying out a brutal crackdown.    His grounding last month of a commercial airliner and arrest of a dissident blogger on board drew Western outrage.
    Biden is likely to challenge Putin over his support for Lukashenko and question him about plans to push ahead with integrating the two countries economically and politically.
    Putin regards Belarus as part of Russia’s sphere of influence and the two leaders are unlikely to see eye to eye.
    Biden will question Putin on Moscow’s apparent reluctance to continue a U.N-backed cross-border aid operation into Syria whose mandate is due to expire next month, and urge Putin to support it, a U.S. official said.
    U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock last month appealed to the Security Council not to cut a cross-border aid “lifeline” to some 3 million Syrians in the country’s north.
    Putin told NBC that Russia thought the West should distribute any aid it provides to Syria via the central government, accusing it of not doing so to try to avoid President Bashar al-Assad.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland in Geneva and by Andrew Osborn in MoscowEditing by Giles Elgood)

6/15/2021 Slovakia Court Orders Businessman’s Retrial Over Journalist Murder
Slovak businessman Marian Kocner is escorted by a security officer for a public hearing at the Slovak Supreme Court
as he and Tomas Szabo appear on charges of ordering and carrying out the murders of investigative journalist
Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava, Slovakia, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a retrial of a businessman acquitted over the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, following an appeal from prosecutors.
    Citing a lack of evidence, a lower court last year acquitted Marian Kocner in a case that shook Slovakia and led to mass protests against graft in government.
    Kuciak, 27, and Martina Kusnirova were gunned down in their home outside Bratislava.
    Prosecutors allege that Kocner, the subject of Kuciak’s articles on graft involving politically connected entrepreneurs, had ordered the killing due to Kuciak’s reporting. Kocner has repeatedly denied the charge.
    Judge Peter Paluda said the Special Criminal Court did not consider all available evidence and must re-try the case.
    “Pieces of evidence were evaluated … in an isolated way without considering relations to other evidence, which led to a wrong legal conclusion resulting in acquittal,” the judge told the hearing.
    The murders sparked massive protests, forced long-term leader Robert Fico to step down as prime minister, and ushered in a new government last year whose main election promise was to clean up corruption and sleaze.
    A series of investigations into links between businessmen, politicians, police and judicial official has followed.
    But the main test of the EU member country’s judicial and political system, has been seen as finding and sentencing Kuciak’s murderers.
    “This is a first shout into the darkness for justice, not only for our two children, but for the next generations and for you journalists so you are not scared to write,” Zlatica Kusnirova, the mother of the murdered woman, told reporters.
    Along with Kocner, the court also overturned the acquittal of his acquaintance Alena Zsuzsova, who will also face a retrial.    It confirmed the sentencing of a third man, Tomas Szabo, accused of taking part in the Kuciak killing as well as another murder, to 25 years.
    Two other people have been sentenced to 15 and 25 years in jail, one for helping arrange the hit and one who has admitted to the shooting.
(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean and Alison Williams)

6/15/2021 Swiss Hail Constructive U.S. Approach To Iran After Biden Talks
Flags of the U.S. and Switzerland are attached to a car during the arrival of U.S. President Joe Biden at Cointrin airport, ahead
of a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Pool
    GENEVA (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden voiced support on Tuesday to speed up approval of the financial transfers needed to deliver more food and medicines to Iran through a Swiss humanitarian channel, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said.
    Cassis, speaking to a news conference after the 30-minute talks with Biden in Geneva, said: “The trouble is it hasn’t been used enough, and why?    Because there are transfers of funds that still require approval, and I think on this the U.S. is willing to accelerate their decisions so that this channel can be used to its full effect.”
    Only a trickle of deals has gone through so far.
    Neutral Switzerland has represented U.S. interests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, often serving as an intermediary for prisoner exchanges between the two foes.
    Biden and Swiss President Guy Parmelin also discussed ongoing negotiations to revive a big power agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that Washington ditched under former President Donald Trump, Cassis said.
    “We talked about this nuclear agreement, about the intention of the United States to do everything it can to move things forward,” he said.
    “The situation is very difficult at the moment, you know that (presidential) elections will be held in Iran very soon and I think one should not have too high expectations."
    “However it is clear that the intention of this American administration is to try to find a new path, which won’t be easy, because there has been a long history of feuds,” he added.
    Geneva hosts the first summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, including on nuclear security issues, with expectations low on both sides.
    Russia is holding former U.S. marine Paul Whelan on an espionage conviction, and Trevor Reed, another former U.S. marine, for an alleged assault on a police officer.    Both deny wrongdoing.    Their families have pressed for their release ahead of the summit.
    Asked whether Switzerland might use its good offices to facilitate a prisoner handover, Cassis said: “Switzerland is always ready to provide help for prisoner exchanges, especially for countries where it plays the role of a protecting power.”
(Reporting by Michael Shields and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Chris Reese and Chizu Nomiyama)

6/15/2021 Joe Biden And Vladimir Putin Clash Before Summit by OAN Newsroom
(COMBO) This combination of pictures shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, in Moscow and
Joe Biden, left, in Washington, DC (Photo by JIM WATSON, ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)
    Tensions between Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have risen ahead of their scheduled face-to-face meet.     GOP officials, such as top House Foreign Affairs Committee member Michael McCaul, have argued that Joe Biden is heading into the meeting from a position of weakness.    On Monday, Biden failed to stir confidence in his ability to negotiate with Vladimir Putin when he repeatedly flip-flopped from condemning Putin to complimenting him.
    Biden appeared to hesitate when asked if Putin was a killer and offered him praise instead.
    “The answer to your first question,    I’m laughing too,” he expressed.    “I have met with him.    He’s bright, he’s tough.”
    Biden went on to claim it doesn’t matter if Putin is a killer or not, as long as the two can cooperate in areas of “mutual interest.”
    “I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses,” he explained.    “…We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest in the interests of the world to cooperate and see if we can do that.”
    Biden also stated he views political repressions in Russia as a mere bargaining chip in mutual relations and failed to reiterate the need to observe human rights. He went on to claim, “I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities.”
    This comes after Democrat officials appeared to suggest Russia was behind every major hacking or malware scam in recent months after peddling the debunked Russia hoax for four years.    Putin responded to the accusations of so-called malign activities by Biden and top Democrat officials.
    “It’s becoming farcical, we know it well, we’ve been accused of all kinds of things, election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth,” he explained.    “Not one time did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.”
    In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Putin said recent attempts to demonize the Russians by mainstream media have been mostly baseless or debunked.    He also mentioned he’s surprised the Russians aren’t being accused of starting Black Lives Matter riots.
    “This movement was used by one of the political forces domestically in the course of election campaigns, but there are some grounds for it,” he asserted.    “We do support African Americans fight for their rights, but we are against any types and kinds of extremism.”
    Putin went on to assure he’s committed to improving mutual ties with the U.S. as Biden has made attempts to maintain a dwindling support for his agenda among NATO allies.
    “We talked about Russia’s aggressive acts that posed a threat to NATO and our collective security.    That’s why I met with the Bucharest Nine, the eastern flank allies in advance of this summit,” he stated.    “Today I also met with the leaders of the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”
    Security experts say a military conflict with Russia may lead to guaranteed mutual annihilation within the first 20 minutes of hostilities.    Russia is testing its newest inter-continental ballistic missiles amid these threats.
Russian Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile systems move through Red Square
in Moscow. (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Russian Defence Ministry have reported the drills underway in East Siberia involve military drones and the RS-24 Yars missile systems.    The exercise also involves 2,000 military personnel and support vehicles.    The Yars systems carry a nuclear warhead of 500 kilotons and have a range of 7,500 miles, which means they can reach the U.S. at any time.
    This comes as Biden threatened retaliation for alleged Russian cyberattacks ahead of his summit with Putin.

6/15/2021 Wide Disagreements, Low Expectations As Biden, Putin Meet by Steve Holland and Vladimir Soldatkin
Flags of the U.S., Russia and Switzerland are pictured in the garden in front of villa La Grange, one day prior to the meeting of U.S.
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland June 15, 2021. Peter Klaunzer/Pool via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin face off on Wednesday in their first meeting since Biden took office with wide disagreements likely and expectations low for any breakthroughs.
    Both have said they hope their talks in a stately lakeside Geneva villa can lead to more stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.
    “We’re not expecting a big set of deliverables out of this meeting,” a senior U.S. official told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to Geneva, saying the two are expected to talk for four or five hours starting at around 1 p.m. (1100 GMT).
    “I’m not sure that any agreements will be reached,” said Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.
    Relations have deteriorated for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and U.S. charges – denied by Moscow – of its meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
    They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer,” prompting Russia to recall its ambassador to Washington for consultations.    The United States recalled its ambassador in April.    Neither has since returned.
    The senior U.S. official said the United States aimed for a set of “taskings” – Washington jargon for assigning aides to work on specific issues – “about areas where working together can advance our national interests and make the world safer.”
    Arms control is one domain where progress has historically been possible despite wider agreements.
    In February, Russia and the United States extended for five years the New START treaty, which caps their deployed strategic nuclear warheads and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
    The senior U.S. official said Biden would also define areas of vital national interest where Russian misconduct would bring a response.    Biden signed an executive order in April giving Washington wide latitude to impose sanctions on Moscow.
    Vladimir Frolov, a former Russian diplomat, told Reuters Putin wanted respectful ties and to be treated like members of the Soviet Politburo were in the 1960s-1980s, with “a symbolic recognition of Russia’s geopolitical parity with the U.S.
    “In exchange, they (Moscow) would be willing to cut back on some of the loony stuff,” Frolov said, saying he meant “no poisonings, no physical violence, no arrests/kidnappings of U.S. and Russian nationals.    No interference in domestic politics.”
    Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, set the bar for Wednesday’s talks low.
    “The principal takeaway, in the positive sense, from the Geneva meeting would be making sure that the United States and Russia did not come to blows physically, so that a military collision is averted,” he said.
    In a sign of the strained ties, the talks will not include any meals and Putin and Biden are expected to hold separate news conferences rather than a joint one.
    “No breaking of bread,” said the senior U.S. official.
    While the issues may be vexing, the surroundings will be serene when the presidents meet in Villa La Grange, an elegant gray mansion set in a 30-hectare (nearly 75-acre) park overlooking Lake Geneva.
    In contrast to Trump, whose 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, Biden and Putin are not expected to have any solo dealings.
    Standing beside Putin in Helsinki, Trump refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.
    On Wednesday, Biden, Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with interpreters, will meet together before being joined by aides for a larger session.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Writing by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall)

6/16/2021 Joe Biden And Vladimir Putin Deliver Mixed Messages About Geneva Meeting by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the ‘Villa la Grange’,
Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin avoided to take any strong stances following their summit in Geneva on Wednesday.    Putin held a press conference after their meeting, which was shortly followed by Biden’s.
    One of the topics both covered was cybersecurity.    The Russian leader denied his country was the largest cyber threat on the globe.
    “According to U.S. sources, the majority of cyberattacks in the world are performed from U.S. cyberspace,” he explained.    “…Russia is not listed among the cyberspaces where the majority of cyberattacks come from.”
    Although, Biden appeared to double down by warning of possible retaliation if Russia were to launch cyberattacks against American infrastructure.
    “I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructures should be off limits to attack, period, by cyber or any other means,” he asserted.    “…16 specific entities, 16 defined as critical infrastructure under U.S. policy from the energy sector to our water systems.”
    Both politicians seemed to express the meeting went well.    Biden described the meeting as positive, while Putin expressed there to be a general understanding between the interests of each country.
    “I think that we speak the same language on the whole, but it doesn’t mean that we should look into each other’s souls, eyes and swear eternal love and friendship,” he mentioned.    “Not at all, we protect interests of our countries and our people and these relationships are pragmatic first of all.”
Joe Biden, right, and Vladimir Putin, left, prior to the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange,
in Geneva. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Biden and Putin seemed to be testing the waters during their meet by discussing varying topics without coming to any solid agreements.    What the two will accomplish moving forward is still up in the air, but both say this meeting sets the foundation for future discussions.

6/16/2021 Vladimir Putin Questions Political Persecution Of Jan. 6 Protestors by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves the ‘Villa la Grange’ after his meeting with U.S
President Joe Biden at in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again highlighted the political persecution of protesters who took to Capitol Hill on January 6. Putin told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday, political freedoms in Russia in comparison to the U.S. appear to be equally restricted.
    “People went into U.S. congress with political demands.    400 people are now facing criminal charges,” he explained.    “They are facing prison terms of up to 20, maybe 25 years.    They are called home grown terrorists.”
    Putin also pointed out hundreds of Capitol protesters have been subjected to arbitrary detention while Ashli Babbitt, who he referred to as a non-threatening woman, was shot dead. He argued these arrests are a violation of basic human rights.
    “Many people are facing the same things as we do and I am stressing this, we are sympathizing with the United States,” he expressed.    “But we do not want the same thing repeating here.”
    Putin went on to state the U.S. does not have a moral high ground when talking about political freedoms due to the apparent persecution of conservatives on U.S. soil.

6/16/2021 Joe Biden Berates Journalists And Refuses To Answer Questions by OAN Newsroom
    Joe Biden speaks with press, preparing departing the airport, after the US-Russia summit in Geneva
on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden snapped at reporters once again when asked unscripted questions about his recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the end of a news conference on Wednesday, Biden lashed out at a CNN reporter for questioning his previous statements of positive expectations from the meeting with Putin.
    “I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior….What do you do all day?    When did I say I was confident?” he snapped.    “…If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business."
    Just a few hours later, Biden attacked another reporter at the Geneva airport.    When questioned about details regarding his negotiations with Putin, Biden asserted he wasn’t obligated to inform the media on that subject.
    “It makes no sense for me to negotiate with you.    It makes no sense for me to tell you what I’m about to do,” he explained.    “Not because I want to hide anything from you. Why would I tell you about that?
    Left-wing media did not push back on Biden for insulting journalists and dodging their questions.    This comes in stark contrast with severe media attacks on President Trump following his summit with Putin back in 2018.

6/17/2021 Analysis-Biden Talks Down Russia, Spurs Allies In Bid To Back Putin Into A Corner by Simon Lewis and Trevor Hunnicutt
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the U.S.-Russia summit
at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Pool
    WASHINGTON/GENEVA (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on his first foreign foray sought to cast Russia not as a direct competitor to the United States but as a bit player in a world where Washington is increasingly pre-occupied by China.
    Aides said Biden wanted to send a message that Putin was isolating himself on the international stage with his actions, ranging from election interference and cyber-attacks against Western nations to his treatment of domestic critics.
    But Biden could struggle in a parallel attempt to stop the rot in U.S.-Russia relations and deter the threat of nuclear conflict while also talking down Russia, some observers said.
    “The administration wants to de-escalate tensions.    It’s not clear to me that Putin does,” said Tim Morrison, a national security adviser during the Trump administration.    “The only cards he has to play are those of the disruptor.”
    Officials on both sides had played down the chances of major breakthroughs at the talks, and they were right.    None materialized.
    But the two leaders pledged to resume work on arms control as well as cyber security and to look for areas of possible cooperation, signs of some hope for a relationship between two countries with little common ground of late.
    Ties were already frayed when Biden, at the start of his administration, repeated his description of Putin as “a killer.”    That deepened a diplomatic rift that saw both countries withdraw their ambassadors from each others’ capital.
    Echoing an approach by former President Barack Obama, who called Russia a “regional power” after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Biden sought to cast Russia not as a direct competitor to the United States.
    Speaking after his meeting with Putin, Biden said Russia wants “desperately to remain a major power.”
    “Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now.    They are being squeezed by China,” Biden said before boarding his plane out of Geneva, quipping that the Russians “don’t want to be known as, as some critics have said, you know, the Upper Volta with nuclear weapons.”    Biden was referring to the former French West African colony, which changed its name to Burkina Faso.
    Biden also pointed to the troubles of Russia’s economy and called out Putin on Russia’s detention of two Americans, and threats toward U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
    American businessmen “don’t want to hang out in Moscow,” he said.
    Matthew Schmidt, associate professor at the University of New Haven and a specialist on Russian and Eurasian affairs, said Biden was seeking to undermine Putin’s importance on the global stage.
    “The strategy is very simply to push Putin’s buttons, but with some real facts,” Schmidt said.    “Backlash will happen anyways, regardless.”
    Putin, a former agent in Russia’s KGB security agency, lived through the fall of the Soviet Union, a humiliation for the nation that he has sought to right with increasingly aggressive foreign policy, as seen in the Crimea move and Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
    Biden arrived at the lakeside villa in Geneva where he met Putin on Wednesday on the back of meetings of the G7 group of nations and the NATO alliance.
    A senior administration official said Biden’s approach to Russia was more likely to be successful because Biden met Putin straight after rallying allies around the principle of upholding a “rules-based international order” at a G7 meeting in Britain and talks with NATO members in Brussels.
    “There was strong alignment on the basic proposition that we all need to defend … this order, because the alternative is the law of the jungle and chaos, which is in no one’s interest,” the official said.
    At home, Biden’s Republican opponents quickly criticized Biden for failing to block a major Russian-backed natural gas pipeline being built in Europe.
    U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, a frequent Republican critic of Biden, said he was disturbed to hear the president suggest Putin would be troubled by how other countries view him.
    “It is clear to me that Putin could care less about how he’s viewed by others and, quite frankly, would enjoy the reputation of being able to successfully interfere in the internal matters of other countries,” the South Carolina senator said.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland in Geneva; Editing by Kieran Murray and Lincoln Feast.)

6/17/2021 Ukraine Says Now Is Time For Russia To Withdraw After Biden-Putin Summit
krainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday he welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s tough messaging when he met President Vladimir Putin this week and said now was the time to make Russia withdraw from Ukraine.
    In the first high-level Ukrainian government reaction since the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva on Wednesday, Kuleba told Reuters that the talks had not caused any concern for Kyiv.
    “This summit demonstrated that America is back, and now it’s time to make Russia pull back from Ukraine,” Kuleba said in an interview, adding that Moscow has no power of veto over Ukraine’s accession to NATO.
    Kyiv had been wary of the prospect of Biden and Putin cutting a deal about Ukraine’s future without it being present at the table.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Reuters this week he had received reassurances from Biden that Ukraine would not be used as a bargaining tool.    But Zelenskiy added that there was “a little scepticism” about whether the Biden-Putin summit would benefit Ukraine.
    Zelenskiy has urged NATO members to accelerate Ukraine’s entry into the alliance after a standoff with Russia this year that saw Russia mass additional troops and military equipment near Ukraine’s borders.
    The Kremlin said on Thursday that this would be a ‘red line’ for Russia.
    “President Putin saw… no invitation to bargain from the United States on the Ukrainian matter,” Kuleba said.    “And this is a matter of principle because we agreed with the United States that no deals on Ukraine will be made without Ukraine, and America kept its promise.”
    Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are among a number of factors that have badly strained relations between Russia and the United States in recent years.
(Reporting by Sergiy Karazy and Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alexander Smith and Gareth Jones)

6/18/2021 Orban’s Tighter Laws Stoke Taboos, Fear Among Hungary’s LGBT People by Krisztina Fenyo and Krisztina Than
Transgender woman Daniella Milla Tokodi gestures while putting on makeup at
home in Budapest, Hungary, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Daniella Milla Tokodi says she feels finally free as she dances in spectacular costumes in a drag show at a Budapest bar popular with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
    Asssigned male at birth, the 31-year old Hungarian said after having an operation in 2018 to complete her gender transition she broke into tears when she saw herself in the mirror and that she felt “whole.”
    “It was a relief … Since then I am able to look into people’s eyes.    I can communicate with people, I feel whole.”
    That feeling is now overshadowed by worry over a string of laws passed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government that critics say undermine LGBT+ rights, with the latest this week that bans the “display and promotion” of homosexuality and gender change among under-18s, in schools and in the media.
    It follows another law last year banning gender change in identity documents, something Daniella was able to do after she started her transition in 2014.
    “I am obviously concerned by it and how the next generation will grow up.    It is not by chance that there are a lot of gay, transgender suicides because if someone cannot become fulfilled what can they do?    Should they hide?,” Daniella said.
    A survey of 2,000 people by the HATTER society, a Hungarian LGBT+ group, showed that 42% thought about suicide while 30% had attempted it.    Suicide thoughts occurred mostly among teenagers, about 64% of respondents, it said.
    Orban defended the new legislation on Thursday, writing on his website in English that it “does not conflict with any lofty ideals or European laws.    The new Hungarian law simply states clearly that only parents can decide on the sexual education of their children.”
    His critics say Orban, who faces an election next year, has grown increasingly radical on social policy, railing against LGBTQ+ people and immigrants, which has deeply divided Hungarians and upset the LGBT+ community.
    Orban’s Fidesz party, which promotes a Christian-conservative agenda, tacked the proposal banning school talks on LGBT+ issues to a separate, widely-backed bill that strictly penalises paedophilia.
    The move, which critics say wrongly conflates paedophilia with LGBT+ issues, prompted a mass rally on Monday, while rights groups have called on Fidesz to withdraw the bill and the European Commission has opened an inquiry into it.
    The new law also sets up a list of organisations allowed to provide education about sex in schools.
    Drag queen “Elona Musk," who did not want to use his real name, has worked in a volunteer group that visits schools to educate children about diversity.
    Elona himself had a tough time in high school, feeling that he had to hide that he was gay.    He grew up in Romania where he said homosexuality was a “huge taboo.”
    He moved to Hungary from Transylvania 10 years ago and in his day job, he works for a multinational company.    The new law scares him as he fears he will not be able to continue his volunteer work.
    “I think this is just one step and it will continue with new and new laws.”
    Critics have likened the new legislation to Russia’s 2013 law that bans disseminating “propaganda on non-traditional sexual relations” among young Russians.
    It also affects the LGBT+ community’s main media outlet, Humen magazine and online news portal.
    Its editor Zsolt Erdei says it is still unclear whether they will be able to display their free printed magazine in public places.    The online version will have to be preceded by an age 18 warning.
(Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

6/18/2021 Ukraine Sanctions Tycoon Firtash For Business Links To Russian Defence Firms by Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash arrives at court in Vienna, Austria,
February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
    KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine imposed sanctions on tycoon Dmytro Firtash on Friday for selling titanium products that allegedly end up being used by Russian military enterprises.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s security and defence council said the exact nature of the sanctions would be announced separately in a presidential decree.
    A spokesman for Firtash was not immediately available for comment.
    Firtash rose to become a wealthy and influential businessman in Ukraine but has been indicted in the United States on bribery and racketeering charges.    He denies wrongdoing and has fought extradition from Vienna.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and support for separatist forces in the eastern Donbass region in a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
    Firtash was being sanctioned for “his involvement in the titanium business,” the security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov told a briefing.
    “There is a supply of raw materials and then … it goes to the military enterprises of the Russian Federation and we cannot allow this to continue,” he said, without providing specifics.
    Zelenskiy has promised action to reduce the influence of oligarchs on Ukraine.
    In February he imposed sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian businessman and politician with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move that the Kremlin called “alarming
    The production of titanium products is a core business in Firtash’s Group DF and it includes titanium mining and enrichment, the production of titanium dioxide, titanium slag, sponge ingots and slabs.
    Austria’s Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 that Firtash could be extradited to the United States but he remains in the country as his lawyers have filed a request for a retrial that has not yet been ruled on.
    A final decision to extradite Firtash can only be taken by the justice minister once the case has run its course.
    Firtash is a former supporter of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich and made a fortune selling Russian gas to the Kyiv government.
    Firtash has also been represented by Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, who are associates of Rudy Giuliani.
    The council also announced sanctions against businessman Pavel Fuks, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Fuks told the Ukraine 24 channel that the sanctions against him were groundless and he would take legal action.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; additional reporting by Ilya Zhegulev in Kyiv and Francois Murphy in Vienna; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Catherine Evans, Raissa Kasolowsky and Philippa Fletcher)

6/18/2021 Liberian Rebel Sentenced In Switzerland For War Crimes, Cannibalism by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Switzerland's national flag is displayed on the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (Bundesstrafgericht)
building in Bellinzona, Switzerland, December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Emma Farge/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) -A Liberian rebel commander was sentenced in Switzerland to 20 years in jail on Friday for rape, killings and an act of cannibalism, in one of the first ever convictions over the West African country’s civil war.
    The case was also Switzerland’s first war crimes trial in a civilian court.    It involved 46-year-old Alieu Kosiah who went by the nom de guerre “bluff boy” in the rebel faction ULIMO that fought former President Charles Taylor’s army in the 1990s.
    Kosiah faced 25 charges including one where he was accused of eating slices of a man’s heart.    He was convicted of that and all but four of the other counts, documents from the Swiss Federal Court showed.
    He was arrested in 2014 in Switzerland, where he had been living as a permanent resident.    A 2011 Swiss law allows prosecution for serious crimes committed anywhere, under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
    A plaintiff in the case who testified that Kosiah ordered his brother’s murder urged other Liberians to come forward as witnesses and secure more convictions.
    “If you set an example, the other guys will be afraid,” he said in a statement via the NGO Civitas Maxima that represented him. He asked not to be named in media reports for fear of reprisals.
    Liberia has ignored pressure to prosecute crimes from its back-to-back wars between 1989-2003, in which thousands of child soldiers became bound up in power tussles exacerbated by ethnic rivalry.
    Human Rights Watch called Friday’s sentencing a “landmark.”
    “Switzerland’s efforts on this case should help mobilize wider accountability in Liberia as this shows that these crimes can be prosecuted.    I see this as an opportunity,” the group’s Elise Keppler said.
    Activists in the Liberian capital Monrovia celebrated the verdict.    “This will serve as a deterrent for others around the world.    I think justice has taken its course,” said Dan Sayeh, a civil society campaigner.
    Kosiah had denied all the charges and told the court he was a minor when first recruited into the conflict.    His lawyer did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the sentence.
    Kosiah was cleared on Friday of attempted murder of a civilian, accessory to the murder of a civilian, an order to loot and recruitment of a child soldier.
    The court said that the 20-year sentence was the maximum it was allowed to give under Swiss law.
    “No mitigating circumstances were taken into account in the sentencing.    A deportation from Switzerland was also ordered for a period of 15 years,” it said.    Kosiah was also ordered to pay compensation to seven plaintiffs, it added.
    It was not immediately clear when the deportation would occur. The roughly 6-1/2 years that Kosiah has already served in pre-trial detention will count towards the sentence, the court papers showed.
    Charles Taylor was sentenced for war crimes in 2012, but only for acts in neighbouring Sierra Leone.    His son, Chuckie, was sentenced for torture in Liberia by a U.S. court in 2009.
(Additional reporting by Alphonso Toweh in Monrovia; Editing by Alex Richardson and Andrew Heavens)

6/18/2021 Russian-Annexed Crimea Orders Partial Evacuation Of Yalta Over Floods
People cross a flooded street following heavy rainfall in Yalta, Crimea June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Alexey Pavlishak
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Authorities in Russian-annexed Crimea on Friday ordered the evacuation of parts of the city of Yalta after heavy rain caused major flooding on the Black Sea peninsula.
    The region, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has declared a state of emergency and sought help from the military to contain the damage caused by the floods.
    In Yalta, a popular tourist destination on the peninsula’s southern coast, authorities ordered an evacuation as they scrambled to contain rising water levels.    They said one person had died after being swept away by the current, TASS news agency reported.
    “We are first evacuating the people from flooded areas in the city centre and those located near rivers,” Yanina Pavlenko, head of the city’s administration, said in a statement.
    Footage from the city of around 80,000 people showed cars almost completely submerged in murky water.
    Pavlenko, who said Yalta had not witnessed rain this heavy in nearly a century, urged the population to stock up on drinking water after the city cut off the water supply and blocked roads.
    Power was also cut in Yalta and in Kerch, a city in eastern Crimea, to prevent equipment from being damaged in the floods, officials said.
    Known for its jagged coastline and mild climate, Crimea was a favoured destination for 19th century Russian nobility and Soviet workers’ state-funded holidays.
    Since its annexation by Moscow, Crimea has continued to be a popular destination for Russian tourists, with the authorities investing heavily to link the peninsula to southern Russia via a massive road and rail bridge. Ukraine says it wants the peninsula back.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Philippa Fletcher)

6/18/2021 EU Reaches Deal On Belarus Economic Sanctions, According To Austria, Diplomats by Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian law enforcement officers stand guard in a street in Minsk, Belarus March 25, 2021. BelaPAN via REUTERS/File Photo
    BRUSSELS/VIENNA (Reuters) -The European Union is set to ban new loans to Belarus after reaching a deal on Friday for economic sanctions on Minsk as punishment for forcing down a flight to arrest a journalist, the Austrian foreign ministry and three diplomats said.
    Broad economic sanctions would be the EU’s strongest response yet to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in May by Belarusian authorities to arrest an exiled dissident, a move the bloc’s leaders have called state piracy.
    Restrictions on the Belarusian financial sector, if agreed by EU governments at a political level, will include: a ban on new loans, a ban on EU investors from trading securities or buying short-term bonds and a ban on EU banks from providing investment services.    EU export credits will also end.
Friday’s agreement overcame objections from Austria, whose Raiffeisen Bank International is a big player in Belarus through its Priorbank subsidiary.
    EU leaders meet next Thursday for a scheduled summit.    It was not yet clear if they will approve the deal agreed by expert officials.
    “With this agreement the EU is sending a clear and targeted signal against the Belarusian regime’s unbearable acts of repression,” the Austrian foreign ministry said in a statement.
    President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has argued that the journalist pulled off the plane on May 23, Roman Protasevich, had been plotting a rebellion, and he has accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him.
    The EU, NATO, Britain, Canada and the United States have expressed outrage that a flight between EU members Greece and Lithuania was pressed to land in Minsk and authorities then arrested the 26-year-old exiled dissident with his 23-year-old girlfriend.
    EU experts tasked with drawing up sanctions agreed on a ban of exports from the bloc of any communications equipment that could be used for spying, and a tighter arms embargo to include hunting rifles.
    They also agreed restrictions on EU purchases from Belarus of tobacco products, as well as oil and oil-related products, and a ban on importing potash, a major Belarusian export.
    There will be exemptions in the financial sanctions for humanitarian purposes, while private savings of Belarusian citizens will not be affected, one of the diplomats said.
    Closely allied to Russia, which sees Belarus as a buffer country against NATO expansion, Lukashenko has been impervious to foreign pressure since disputed elections last August, which the opposition and the West say were rigged. Massive street protests have had little impact on his grip on power.
    The EU has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on individuals, including Lukashenko, since last year, freezing their assets in the EU and banning travel.    On Monday, foreign ministers will approve another round, with 78 people and eight entities to be blacklisted, diplomats said.
    EU governments now want to hit sectors that are central to the Belarus economy, to inflict real punishment on Lukashenko.
    Exports of potash – a potassium-rich salt used in fertilizer – are a major source of foreign currency for Belarus, and state firm Belaruskali says it produces 20% of the world’s supply.
    The EU statistics agency said the bloc imported 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) worth of chemicals including potash from Belarus last year, as well as more than 1 billion euros worth of crude oil and related products such as fuel and lubricants.
    Germany has said sanctions should continue until Belarus holds free elections and releases political prisoners.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Sabine Siebold and Francois MurphyEditing by Frances Kerry)

6/18/2021 Poland Becomes Haven For Belarusians Fleeing Crackdown by Joanna Plucinska and Kuba Stezycki
Katarzyna Skopiec, a human rights activist running the House of Peace (Mirnyj Dom) and Humanosh Foundation, which
provide shelter for Belarusian refugees, poses for a picture in Warsaw, Poland June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kuba Stezycki
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Thousands of Belarusians escaping a political crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko have fled to neighbouring Poland in the past year, but their long-term future there is uncertain.
    Aleksei Zuk and his partner Ekaterina, from the city of Brest in southeast Belarus, carried only small backpacks when they arrived in Poland in February, planning only to stay until the dust had settled at home.
    Both Zuk and Ekaterina, who declined to give her last name for fear it would compromise her family back home, had been among the thousands of protesters across Belarus who took to the streets after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election last August.
    The authorities responded with a brutal crackdown and mass detentions, and the couple were both arrested and detained several days: Ekaterina in August and Zuk, who had become a protest organiser, in November.
    Fearing they could be detained again, the couple left Brest in February, arriving in Poland on tourist visas.    They later obtained a humanitarian visa for Poland in Vilnius.
    “I hope that life will be good in Belarus and that we can go back but this hope … is growing thinner with every month,” Zuk told Reuters.    “I want to stay. To work, to get an official status.”
    As turmoil shook Belarus, Poland proclaimed itself a European leader in supporting Belarusian opposition politicians, calling for more European Union funding, launching a special aid program for 50 million zlotys ($13 million)and easing visa procedures for Belarusians.
    According to the Polish foreign ministry and Poland’s Office for Foreigners, nearly 10,000 Belarusians have applied for humanitarian visas or asylum in the past year.
    Ramona Konik came to Poland after her husband was arrested and badly beaten by police at a protest in Minsk.    Upon his release, the couple and their 10-year-old autistic son also decided to get out.
    Poland granted them a humanitarian visa, but Konik said she fears for their future.
    “I have a humanitarian visa but only for a year.    What do I do later? With residency, I can get an apartment, a mortgage, a loan for a car, medicine…,” Konik said.
    Organisations seeking to support the community told Reuters anonymously that their aid was limited after the Polish government did not renew some funding for 2021.
    Katarzyna Skopiec, who runs Mirnyj dom and the Humanosh Foundation, which provide shelter for Belarusian refugees, told Reuters they have never received any government support, despite trying to apply for a 50,000 zlotys grant.
    “At every step, they are creating additional hurdles for them,” Skopiec told Reuters.    “I don’t believe that they help in Poland. If they did, [Belarusians] wouldn’t be calling me upon landing at the airport, terrified.”
    Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Reuters that the Polish government does more to support Belarus than most European countries and that its aid programme was intended as an emergency injection of money at a time of crisis.
($1 = 3.8120 zlotys)
(Additional reporting by Lewis MacDonald; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/18/2021 Cyber Attack On Polish Officials Came From Russia, Kaczynski Says
FILE PHOTO: Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks during a parliament session
in Warsaw, Poland, October 28, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Top Polish government officials have been hit by a far-reaching cyber attack conducted from Russian territory, Poland’s de facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Friday in his first official statement on an email hacking incident this month.
    Kaczynski, who is deputy prime minister, said those targeted included ministers and lawmakers of various political parties.
    “The analysis of our services and the secret services of our allies allows us to clearly state that the cyber attack was carried out from the territory of the Russian Federation.    Its scale and range are wide,” he said on the government website.
    The Russian government and the Kremlin have repeatedly denied carrying out or tolerating cyber attacks following allegations from the United States about cyber attacks on U.S. territory, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.
    Polish media reported earlier this month that e-mails sent by some government officials from their private email boxes, including those of the prime minister’s top aide, were leaked and made available on the Telegram social media platform.
    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said earlier this week that the mail boxes were taken over by unauthorized people.    His aide Michal Dworczyk said that some of the e-mails and information was stolen from mailboxes owned by him and his family and published on Telegram, while some were falsified.
    “Currently, I am not able to say exactly when my e-mail account was successfully hacked, but I would like to emphasize once again that I did not use it to send any information that could pose a threat to state security,” Dworczyk said last week.
    On Wednesday the government presented information about the cyberattacks during the parliament’s lower house meeting that was made confidential at Morawiecki’s request.
    Opposition parties have criticised the Law and Justice (PiS) government for using their private mailboxes for official e-mail exchanges.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

6/19/2021 Thousands March For LGBT Equality In Polish Capital by Alan Charlish
People attend the "Equality Parade" rally in support of the LGBT community, in Warsaw, Poland June 19, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Thousands marched through central Warsaw on Saturday in an “Equality Parade” demanding an end to discrimination against the LGBT community, amid what campaigners say has been a rising tide of homophobia in Poland in recent years.
    LGBT rights have become a central part of a wider struggle in the country between liberals, who stress the need for a more tolerant and inclusive society, and religious conservatives, who denounce what they say is an attempt to subvert traditional values in the predominantly Catholic nation.
    In a sea of rainbow flags, the symbol of the LGBT community, marchers gathered outside the towering neo-Gothic Palace of Culture in central Warsaw, as a DJ played dance music from a stage before the start of the march.
    “The Equality Parade is a celebration of LGBT people and all those who have to fight for their rights,” said 22-year-old restaurant worker Sylwester Cimochowski.
    “Homophobia is a huge problem in Poland … there are lots of people who can’t cope with it, they kill themselves.    The situation of LGBT people in Poland is tragic and that’s why I’m here – to support them.”
    Both politicians and clergy have been accused of stoking homophobia in Poland.
    Some conservatives say they have nothing against gay people; they only oppose what they call “LGBT ideology.”
    Meanwhile, in Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government, which is allied with Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, has introduced a new law banning the “display and promotion of homosexuality” among under-18s.
    “It’s getting more and more difficult … but at the same time there is more and more resistance,” said Marta Borkowska, a 37-year-old business consultant, referring to the situation of LGBT people in central and eastern Europe.
    Asked what she would say to people who are opposed to the march, she replied, “I would say ‘don’t be afraid'
(Reporting by Alan Charlish Additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Mark Potter)

6/19/2021 Russia’s Putin Tries To Give Ruling Party A Pre-Election Boost With Spending Promises
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the audience during the annual congress of the
United Russia party in Moscow, Russia June 19, 2021. Sputnik/Sergei Karpukhin/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin sought on Saturday to give Russia’s ruling party a pre-election boost by promising to spend big on infrastructure, education and health.
    Putin, 68, also announced his key allies, the defence and foreign ministers, would front the campaign for the ruling United Russia party for September’s parliamentary elections.
    The jailed Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most prominent domestic critic, and his allies, are barred from the elections after they were declared “extremists.”
    Speaking at its party congress, Putin praised United Russia for its “ability to renew and constantly develop.”
    With real wages falling and inflation rising, its ratings are at a multi-year low, according to a poll by the Levada Center, an independent pollster.    It showed just 27% of Russians supported the party in March, down from 31% in August.
    Putin proposed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and top diplomat Sergei Lavrov to head the list of party candidates at the elections.
    “I’m sure that United Russia sets the highest bar for itself, which is to confirm its leadership position and to clinch a win at the elections,” he said.
    Putin did not name Dmitry Medvedev, the party leader and former president and prime minister, among the top candidates. Opinion polls have shown Medvedev has a low popularity rating.
    Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Lavrov and Shoigu were the most popular ministers.
    “It’s enough to show those two guys to the population, and it’s obvious that this is Putin’s party,” he said.
    Putin proposed extending an infrastructure loans programme until 2026 and a 100 billion roubles ($1.4 billion) pandemic recovery programme.
    “People’s well-being is of the highest value,” he said.
    He also pledged more funds for road construction and reiterated his support for a ban on exports of some kinds of timber from Jan 1. 2022.
    Putin helped found the United Russia party 20 years ago, but has never been a member.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mark Potter)

6/21/2021 Swedish PM Lofven Ousted In Parliament No-Confidence Vote
FILE PHOTO: Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven leaves a meeting at the EU summit,
in Brussels, Belgium, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Sweden’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in a no-confidence vote on Monday, giving the Social Democrat leader a week to resign and hand the speaker the job of finding a new government, or call a snap election.
    The nationalist Sweden Democrats had seized the chance to call the vote after the formerly communist Left Party withdrew support for the centre-left government over a plan to ease rent controls for new-build apartments.
    Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson told parliament the government was harmful and historically weak, adding: “It should never have come into power.”
    The no-confidence motion, which required 175 votes in the 349-seat parliament to pass, was supported by 181 lawmakers.
    Lofven, 63, is the first Swedish prime minister to be ousted by a no-confidence motion put forward by the opposition. He was due to hold a news conference later on Monday.
    His shaky minority coalition with the Green Party has relied on support in parliament from two small centre-right parties and the Left Party since a tight election in the European Union member state in 2018.
    The Left Party blamed Lofven for triggering the crisis.
    “It is not the Left Party that has given up on the Social Democrat government, it is the Social Democrat government that has given up on the Left Party and the Swedish people,” Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said.
    With parliament deadlocked, it is not clear to whom the speaker might turn to form a new government if Lofven resigns.    Opinion polls suggest the centre-left and centre-right blocs are evenly balanced, so a snap election might not bring clarity either.
    Dadgostar said that even though her party had voted against Lofven, it would never help “a right-wing nationalist government” take power.
A new government – or a caretaker administration – would sit only until a parliamentary election scheduled for September next year.
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard, Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Niklas Pollard and Timothy Heritage)

6/21/2021 U.N. Decries Russia Moves Against Navalny, Calls For Upholding Rights
FILE PHOTO: A graffiti of Alexei Navalny by Swiss artists Julien Baro & Lud is pictured ahead of the June 16 summit in the Swiss city between U.S. President Joe Biden
and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, June 14, 2021. Text reads: Hero of our Time. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Monday criticised Russia for outlawing groups linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny as “extremist”, and called on Moscow to uphold fundamental civil and political freedoms.
    “Legislation restricting the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association should be brought in line with international human rights norms and standards,” Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.
    “I further urge the authorities to end the arbitrary practice of labelling ordinary individuals, journalists, and non-governmental organizations as ‘extremists’, ‘foreign agents’ or ‘undesirable organizations’,” she told the Geneva forum.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Emma Farge)

6/21/2021 West Hits Belarus With New Sanctions Over Ryanair ‘Piracy’ by Robin Emmott, Daphne Psaledakis and William James
FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus,
where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas/File Photo
    BRUSSELS/WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – Western powers hit Belarus with a wave of new sanctions on Monday in a coordinated response to Minsk’s forced landing of a Ryanair plane last month to arrest a journalist on board, an act that is set to prompt further economic sanctions.
    The European Union, the United States, Britain and Canada blacklisted more officials, lawmakers and ministers from the administration of President Alexander Lukashenko, whose air force intercepted the Ryanair plane flying between Athens and Vilnius on May 23 in what the West called state piracy.
    “We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law,” the European Union, the United States, Britain and Canada said in a joint statement.
    “We are united in calling for the regime to end its repressive practices against its own people,” they said.
    In Monday’s mix of travel bans, asset freezes and sanctions on state-owned Belarusian companies, Western governments sought to escalate their pressure on Lukashenko, who is accused of rigging elections last August and cracking down on the opposition to prolong his now 27 years in power.
    There was no immediate reaction from Lukashenko who has denied rigging the vote, accused the arrested journalist Roman Protasevich of plotting a revolution, and increasingly turned to Russia for support.
    The EU included Russian businessman Mikhail Gutseriyev, the largest single foreign investor in Belarus, in its sanctions.    That is likely to further strain Brussels’ ties with Moscow, which accuses Europe of interfering in its affairs.
    The latest round of sanctions since last year’s disputed elections takes the EU’s tally of Belarusian lawmakers, officials, judges and military commanders to 166 people, including 78 who were blacklisted on Monday.
    Britain, the United States and Canada added individuals to their sanctions lists, although it was not immediately clear if those now blacklisted in Belarus are all subject to the same travel bans and asset freezes across all countries.
    The United States said it hit people with top jobs in the Lukashenko government including the ministry of internal affairs and the ministry of information.
    The EU targeted Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin, the transport minister and the air force commander, as well as judges, lawmakers and officials.
    Britain’s sanctions on Monday included measures against London-registered BNK (UK) Ltd, which negotiates contracts for exports of Belarusian oil products.
    U.S. President Joe Biden, along with other Western leaders, had condemned the forced landing of the Ryanair flight and instructed his advisers to hold those responsible to account.
    British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused Lukashenko of a “shameful ruse” to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, on the Ryanair flight, as well as his student girlfriend.
    Family members say they have been coerced into confessions about organising protests in Minsk last year.
    Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya met EU foreign ministers for breakfast talks in Luxembourg on Monday, before addressing reporters in Brussels. She called for more Western efforts to punish Lukashenko and press him to agree to free and fair elections.
    “Lukashenko is escalating his violence towards people who are fighting against him, but people are not giving up,” she said.    EU leaders would discuss giving political approval at a summit on Thursday.
    While individual sanctions have not had the impact the West has sought, the EU hopes that economic sanctions under preparation can hit Lukashenko hardest.
    EU leaders are set on Thursday to consider provisionally-agreed sanctions on oil, finance, potash and tobacco, which were approved by EU experts late last week.
    Restrictions on the Belarusian financial sector are set to include: a ban on new loans, a ban on EU investors from buying bonds on the primary market and a ban on EU banks from providing investment services. EU export credits will also end, although private savings will not be targeted.    Securities in circulation and traded between fund managers are not expected to be hit, but sanctions on the secondary market could come at a later stage.
    The bloc will ban exports to Belarus of any communications equipment that could be used for spying, and tighten an arms embargo to include rifles used by biathletes, officials said.
    “Our demand to Lukashenko remains the same: the release of political prisoners, an end to the violence against protesters and the opposition and an inclusive dialogue leading to free and fair elections,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
    Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said her government was ready to support its enterprises if they got hit by the European sanctions on neighbouring Belarus.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

6/22/2021 Poland Says It Sees Link Between Hacking And Russian Secret Services
A man types on a computer keyboard in front of the displayed cyber code in this
illustration picture taken on March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
    WARSAW (Reuters) – A far-reaching cyberattack in Poland this month hit over 100 email accounts used by current and former government officials, Polish counter-intelligence said on Tuesday, adding evidence showed links between the hackers and Russia’s secret services.
    The Polish suggestion of Russian state complicity comes a week after U.S. President Joe Biden told President Vladmir Putin at a meeting in Geneva that certain critical infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyberattacks.
    The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for a comment.
    The Russian government and the Kremlin have repeatedly denied carrying out or tolerating cyber attacks following allegations from the United States and other nations about cyber attacks on U.S. territory and elsewhere.
    A spokesperson for Poland’s counter-intelligence services said the attack was carried out by hackers known as UNC1151, adding the group’s actions are part of a campaign known as Ghostwriter aimed at destabilising the countries of central Europe.
    “The secret services have reliable information at their disposal which links this group with the activities of the Russian secret services,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
    Earlier in June Poland’s de facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the cyber attack had hit top Polish government officials and was conducted from Russian territory, although he did not identify the perpetrators.
    He spoke after local media reported that emails sent by some government officials from their private email boxes, including those of the prime minister’s top aide, were leaked and made available on the Telegram social media platform.
    Opposition parties have criticised the Law and Justice (PiS) government for using their private mailboxes for official e-mail exchanges.
    “Among the attacked, there are over 100 accounts used by persons discharging public functions,” Tuesday’s statement statement said, adding that over 4,000 accounts of Polish email users were affected in all.
    “Among the attacked are members of the former and present government, deputies, senators, and local government officials.”
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova in Moscow, Editing by William Maclean)

6/22/2021 Dutch Coalition Talks Postponed To August As Drafting Of Pact Starts
FILE PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte attends a debate over remarks he made during talks to form a new government
following the March 17 national elections, in The Hague, Netherlands April 1, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Talks to form a new Dutch government were postponed until mid-August on Tuesday, as conservative caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the leader of the second-largest party began writing a draft coalition pact.
    Rutte and Sigrid Kaag, the leader of the centre-left D-66, are expected to put together a framework for the country’s COVID-19 recovery and climate policies and will then seek support from at least two other parties to achieve a majority in parliament.
    Rutte, one of Europe’s longest-serving prime ministers, had hoped to quickly embark on his fourth term in office after his VVD Party won national elections in March with 24% of the vote.
    But his position came under scrutiny days later after he was accused of lying over remarks made during talks to form a cabinet.
    A patchwork political landscape means Rutte may fail to garner the parliamentary support he needs.
    The likely third party in his coalition, the Christian Democrats, have also lost one seat since the election with influential lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt leaving the party to sit as an independent.
    The record time taken for a Dutch government to be formed after an election is 225 days, for Rutte’s previous cabinet.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling)

6/22/2021 Moscow Restricts Visits To Bars, Restaurants To Curb COVID-19 Wave
FILE PHOTO: A specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) sprays disinfectant while sanitizing
the Rizhsky Railway Station, one of the measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Moscow, Russia June 17, 2021. Moscow Division of Russian Emergencies Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Moscow’s mayor ordered bars and restaurants to serve people only if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or had had an infection indicating immunity – one of the Russian capital’s toughest steps to fight the pandemic since last year’s lockdown.
    The Kremlin has blamed a renewed wave of infections over the last two weeks on the Delta variant and the slow pace of its vaccination programme even though four domestically-produced vaccines have been approved for use.
    Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Tuesday the new restrictions would take effect on June 28 and were needed to avert a stringent new lockdown.
    Residents who want to visit cafes, restaurants or bars will be required to present a QR-code showing they have either been vaccinated, had a confirmed COVID-19 infection within the past 6 months, or tested negative within the last 3 days.
    The Kremlin told Russians on Tuesday it was inevitable they could face discrimination in the workplace if they did not get vaccinated or had not COVID-19.
    “People without vaccination or immunity will not be able to work everywhere.    It will not be possible.    It will pose a threat to those around them,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    Sobyanin said that similar rules had been in place for months in many cities in Europe and Asia.
    “… It’s time for Moscow to adopt their experience if we want to avoid a new, highly undesirable lockdown, which will be a terrible blow to thousands of people working in the catering industry,” he said.
    Russia reported 546 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide on Tuesday, the most confirmed in a single day since February. New positive-test cases totalled 16,715.
    Moscow has throughout the pandemic reported the most cases on a daily basis out of any Russian region.    The city has not been put in lockdown since June 2020.    Authorities have said targeted measures are sufficient.
    They are trying to coax and compel people to get vaccinated, offering those who do the chance to win new cars and flats, while threatening others who don’t with loss of earnings and dismissal.
    Sobyanin said that more than 2 million Moscow residents had now received at least one vaccine dose and that the number of people who have registered to get a shot has increased significantly.
    By June 2, around 18 million of Russia’s 144 million population had received at least one dose of vaccine.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt, Gleb Stolyarov, Anastasia TeterevlevaWriting by Tom BalmforthEditing by Bernadette Baum and Mark Heinrich)

6/22/2021 Danish Police Investigate Vandalising Of Ukraine Monument Ahead Of Denmark-Russia Game
Denmark's Joakim Maehle celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Thomas Delaney and Christian Norgaard against
Russia during Euro 2020 at Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark, June 21, 2021. Pool via REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish police are investigating the defacing of a monument to Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in Copenhagen before Monday’s Euro 2020 match between Denmark and Russia.
    The Ukrainian embassy on Monday posted a picture on Facebook showing the monument painted in the colours of the Russian flag.
    “We strongly condemn this act of vandalism and provocation against Ukraine,” the Ukrainian embassy said.    “This shameful case once again demonstrates to the civilized world that Russian aggression against Ukraine is real.”
    Danish police confirmed it had received a report of vandalism against the Shevchenko monument and that it was investigating the incident.
    Copenhagen city authorities were made aware of the vandalism on Monday afternoon and cleaned the monument within an hour, a spokesperson for the Copenhagen municipality said.
    Shevchenko, a 19th century poet whose writings are considered to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and language, was convicted for promoting the independence of Ukraine from the Russian empire.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 and support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.    Ukraine wants the territory back.
    Only a few Russian fans were present at Monday’s group stage game in Copenhagen, which Denmark won 4-1.
    Denmark, which has hosted Euro 2020 group games against Finland, Belgium and Russia at the Parken Stadium, has had travel curbs in place due to COVID-19, meaning fans from the three respective countries were not allowed to enter without going into quarantine.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/23/2021 Russia Says It Chases British Destroyer Out Of Crimea Waters With Warning Shots, Bombs by Maria Kiselyova and Andrew MacAskill
FILE PHOTO: British Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender arrives for a port visit
in Istanbul, Turkey June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photob
    MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) -Russia said on Wednesday it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of waters Moscow claims in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimea peninsula.
    Britain rejected Russia’s account of the incident, saying it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian “gunnery exercise,” and that no bombs had been dropped.    But it confirmed that its destroyer, HMS Defender, had sailed through what it described as waters belonging to Ukraine.
    The ship was “conducting an innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
    Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “It’s incorrect to say either that it was fired upon or that the ship was in Russian waters.”
    Military experts said that whether or not the details of the Russian or British accounts were accurate, the incident appeared to represent an escalation in confrontation between the West and Russia over disputed sea lanes.
    Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around the peninsula’s coast to be Russian waters.    Western countries deem the peninsula part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.
    “Innocent passage” is an internationally recognised right for ships to sail through territorial waters of a country provided they mean no harm.
    “This was done to test Russian resolve over Crimea,” Mark Gray, a maritime security specialist and a retired colonel with Britain’s Royal Marines, told Reuters.
    “Russia is trying to create facts on the ground and get them respected internationally, so that their annexation is in effect rubber-stamped by the world,” he said, comparing Moscow’s Black Sea claims to those of Beijing in the South China Sea, also rejected by the West.
    “Nonetheless, the Russian response is extraordinarily robust, a tad undiplomatic and way over the top.”
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the incident showed that Russia’s “aggressive and provocative policies” in the Black Sea and nearby Azov Sea constituted a “continuous threat to Ukraine and its allies.”    In a tweet, Kuleba called for more cooperation between NATO and Ukraine in the Black Sea.
    Western countries are conducting naval exercises this week in the Black Sea known as Sea Breeze.    Hours before the incident, Russia’s embassy in Washington had called on the United States and allies to cancel them.
    The British destroyer visited the Ukrainian port of Odessa this week, where an agreement was signed for Britain to help upgrade Ukraine’s navy.
    Russia’s defence ministry, quoted by Interfax news agency, said the British destroyer had left Russian waters soon after Russia fired the warning shots.    A Russian bomber dropped four high explosive fragmentation bombs in its path, it said.
    The Russian ministry said the British ship had ventured as far as 3 kilometers (2 miles) into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.
    “The destroyer had been warned that weapons would be used if it trespasses the border of the Russian Federation.    It did not react to the warning,” the ministry said.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Pavel Polityuk, Andrew MacAskill, William James and Jonathan SaulWriting by Olzhas Auyezov and Peter GraffEditing by Mark Heinrich)

6/23/2021 Swedish Centre Party To Drop Rent Reforms, PM Could Form New Government
FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks during a news conference after the no-confidence vote in
the Swedish parliament, in Stockholm, Sweden June 21, 2021. TT News Agency/Andres Wiklund via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Sweden’s Centre Party said it is ready to drop its demand that the government coalition pursues reform of the rental market, a plan which led parliament to pass a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister.
    The Left Party triggered the vote of no-confidence in Stefan Lofven this week over the proposal and dropping it could mean he can regain their support, allowing him to form a new government.
    Centre Party leader Annie Loof said in a statement on Wednesday that the proposal did not have support in parliament and therefore was “not on the table anymore
    Lofven has led a fragile minority government of Social Democrats and Greens, supported by former political rivals the Centre Party and the Liberals, since 2018.
    He has also needed backing from the Left Party to pass budgets, but it said last week it could not stomach a plan to ease rent controls for new-build apartments which had been agreed by the government and the Centre and Liberal parties.
    The Left Party joined Monday’s vote to oust Lofven but leader Nooshi Dadgostar said her party wanted Lofven back – minus the plan to ease rents.
    After losing the vote, Lofven had a week to resign or call a new election.    If he can get sufficient backing, the speaker of Sweden’s parliament could ask him to form a new government.
    Even if the Left Party gets back on board, he still needs support from the Liberal Party, which abstained in the vote of no-confidence.
(Reporting by Stockholm Newsroom;Editing by Alexander Smith)

6/23/2021 Polish Education Minister Says LGBT March ‘Insult To Public Morality’
FILE PHOTO: People attend the "Equality Parade" rally in support of the LGBT community, in Warsaw, Poland
June 19, 2021. The writing reads: "People, not ideology". REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s education minister said on Wednesday a march held in support of equal rights for LGBT people was an “insult to public morality” and questioned whether participants were normal, prompting angry protests from the opposition.
    Thousands joined last Saturday’s march through central Warsaw to call for an end to discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, amid what campaigners say is an increasingly hostile atmosphere as politicians and Roman Catholic clergy attack what they call “LGBT ideology.”
    “You’ve seen the pictures of the so-called Equality Parade, and that has nothing to do with equality,” Przemyslaw Czarnek said on state-run news channel TVP Info.
    “You saw people dressed bizarrely, a man dressed like a woman, are they normal people in your opinion?
    He later clarified his remarks, saying he had meant their behaviour, not the participants themselves, were not normal.
    Czarnek also rejected the idea that “inclusive language” should be used in schools.
    “In Polish schools, the Polish language is obligatory, not any language of inclusiveness,” he said.    “In Polish… satisfying sexual desire in a way different from the accepted norm is called perversion and deviation.”
    His remarks drew condemnation from the opposition.
    “The only language you know is the language of hate,” said Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, a lawmaker from the Left grouping.     “Language that leads to students, who you should be looking out for, killing themselves, self-harming,” she added.
    The appointment of Czarnek, a conservative lecturer at a Catholic university, drew criticism last year from some quarters, with the Chief Rabbi of Poland and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights expressing concern in a statement over his views on LGBT rights and on Polish-Jewish history.
    The education ministry has recently announced planned reforms, including boosting the role of government-appointed school inspectors and changing students’ reading lists to include more patriotic texts and the works of the late Polish pope, John Paul II.
    Hungary, a close ally of Poland’s ruling conservatives, approved last week a bill that bans the dissemination of material in schools deemed to promote homosexuality or gender change.
    European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the EU executive would take action against Hungary over the bill.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/23/2021 Russian Security Chief Says Moscow Will Work With U.S. To Find Hackers
Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov waits for a meeting of the Pobeda (Victory)
Organizing Committee at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/Files
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia will work with the United States to track down cyber criminals, the head of the FSB security service said on Wednesday, a week after U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to increase cooperation in certain areas.
    “We will work together (on locating hackers) and hope for reciprocity,” the RIA news agency quoted FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov as saying at a security conference in Moscow.
    Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told an investor conference that Russia had been “able to establish a very thorough and down-to-earth exchange with the U.S. side” on cyber security.
    Another senior ministry official said Moscow was awaiting an answer from Washington on starting consultations, TASS news agency reported.
    Biden told Putin at the summit that certain critical infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyber-attacks after hackers seeking ransom money triggered the brief closure of a major U.S. oil pipeline network.
    Washington has said those responsible for some cyber-attacks in the United States have been working either directly for the Russian government or from Russian territory.    The Kremlin has denied any state involvement.
    Putin and Biden also agreed to embark on negotiations to lay the groundwork for arms control agreements and risk-reduction measures.
    Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that Moscow had requested greater transparency about the deployment of missiles in Europe.
    He said Putin had proposed measures such as a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate- and short-range missiles in Europe to build mutual trust.    The Kremlin has accused NATO of dismissing the proposals.
    “The overall situation in Europe is explosive, which requires concrete steps to de-escalate it,” Shoigu said.    “We are ready to work towards this.”
    Russia’s relations with the West are at post-Cold War lows, strained by issues ranging from Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine to allegations of Russian hacking of U.S. elections.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov/Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/23/2021 Swiss Accelerate Reopening, Allow Large Events With ‘COVID Certificates’ by John Miller
FILE PHOTO: People eat on a terrace during easing of lockdown measures against the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) -Switzerland will allow large events topping 10,000 people starting on Saturday, provided attendees have so-called COVID certificates showing they are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative.
    The plan, announced on Wednesday, puts Switzerland at Europe’s vanguard of back-to-normal efforts and aligns with the country’s “lockdown light” strategy, balancing economic protections with pandemic-related health measures.
    Mask-wearing outdoors will no longer be required, restaurant seating will be unlimited and discos can re-open their doors, with no masks required for people with COVID certificates.
    Switzerland’s re-opening plan accelerates previous proposals that foresaw 10,000-person events from August 20, but Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said there was “no reason to wait” as new infections fell to 154 on Wednesday, with two deaths, a sign the pandemic is under control.
    “It’s a big step, a little bit courageous, and we can’t get overconfident,” Berset told a news conference in Bern.
    “We’re seeking to strike the right balance.”
    The easing leaves limits of 30 people at private indoor gatherings, 50 people at private outdoor gatherings and general mask requirements on public transportation.
    Starting Saturday, Switzerland will also ease travel from European countries in the Schengen passport-free zone, the United States, Albania and Serbia, aiming to help the pandemic-hit tourism sector as summer starts.
    Martin Nydegger, director of Swiss Tourism, is hoping for a bump in guests from the United States, where vaccination is well advanced, and Middle Eastern Gulf states.
    “They are waiting to be allowed to enter Switzerland and for visas to be issued,” Nydegger forecast.
    “The long-distance markets in the East (Asia) will come later.”
    Switzerland is working with the European Union on mutual recognition of COVID certificates, with an agreement likely next month, a Swiss government lawyer said.
    From now on, border health measures will focus on countries where variants of concern, including the infectious Delta variant first documented in India, are spreading, Switzerland said.
    Even for travellers from such places, “vaccinated and recovered people… can enter without the obligation to test or quarantine, as long as it is certain that the vaccination offers good protection,” the government said.
(Reporting by John Miller and Silke Koltrowitz, Editing by Michael Shields)

6/23/2021 Blinken Says Nordstream 2 Is Russian Project That Undermines Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: A road sign directs traffic towards the Nord Stream 2 gas line landfall facility
entrance in Lubmin, Germany, September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke//File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday described the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline as a Russian geopolitical project that undermines the security of Ukraine, adding the United States wants to ensure Russia does not use energy as a coercive tool against any European state.
    Speaking at a joint press conference in Berlin after meeting German counterpart Heiko Maas, Blinken said Washington was determined to see if it can make something positive out of a difficult situation and strengthen Europe’s energy security.
    “Our goal remains to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool as a weapon against Ukraine, or anyone else in Europe,” Blinken said.
    Washington is against the Nordstream 2 pipeline which would double Russian gas exports across the Baltic Sea.
    The project, now about 95% complete, would help Russia curtail gas exports via Ukraine, depriving Kyiv of lucrative transit fees.
    Germany, a key NATO ally with which Democratic President Joe Biden has sought to repair relations frayed during the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump, wants to complete the $11 billion pipeline.
    But Blinken waived those sanctions, saying that this was in the U.S. national interest.
    Maas said Berlin wanted a solution that is acceptable for both sides.    “We know the expectations in Washington.    It is extremely important for us to achieve results that Washington can also support.”
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Joseph Nasr; writing by Paul Carrel; editing by David Goodman and Jason Neely)

6/23/2021 Russia Says To Boost Military Ties With Myanmar As Junta Leader Visits
Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing speaks during the IX Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow,
Russia June 23, 2021, in this still image taken from video. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Myanmar’s junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing that Moscow is committed to strengthening military ties with it, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
    Rights activists have accused Moscow of legitimising the junta, which seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, by continuing bilateral visits and arms deals.
    “We are determined to continue our efforts to strengthen bilateral ties based on the mutual understanding, respect and trust that have been established between our countries,” RIA quoted Shoigu as saying at a meeting on Tuesday.
    Min Aung Hlaing was in the Russian capital to attend a security conference and had earlier met Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council.
    Defence ties between the two countries have grown in recent years with Moscow providing army training and university scholarships to thousands of soldiers, as well as selling arms to a military blacklisted by several Western countries.
    Little light was shed on how cooperation between Russia and Myanmar may develop and whether Moscow would be willing to sell more military equipment there.
    Since the army seized power and removed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, troops have put down pro-democracy demonstrations and strikes and killed or arrested hundreds of protesters.
    Addressing a Moscow conference on Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing repeated that the army took power by force because Suu Kyi’s party won the election through fraud – an accusation rejected by the previous election commission and international monitors.
    With Myanmar being one of the traditional export markets for the Russian weaponry, rising tensions there provide Moscow with a good chance to increase military sales, Alexey Kirichenko, Associate Professor at the Institute of Asian and African Countries at the Moscow State University, said.
    “This makes it possible for Russia to conclude lucrative contracts… The situation in the country is very difficult, and the Burmese military needs to build up their military potential,” he said.
    On Tuesday, Myanmar security forces backed by armoured vehicles clashed with a newly formed guerrilla group in the second biggest city Mandalay, resulting in at least two casualties.
    Russia said in March it was deeply concerned by the rising number of civilian deaths in Myanmar.    President Vladimir Putin does not plan to meet Min Aung Hlaing on his visit to Moscow, Kremlin has said.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Katya Golubkova and Gleb Stolyarov, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)

6/24/2021 EU Sanctions Damage Lifeline Transit Of Belarus Potash Via Lithuania
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows waste heaps at Belaruskali potash mines near the town of Soligorsk, some 130 km
(81 miles) south of Minsk, August 31, 2013. Photo taken August 31, 2013. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – An EU decision to ban potash from Belarus jeopardizes the lifeline export route for the world’s top producer of the crop nutrient, a restriction that will tighten when an exemption for previously signed contracts runs out, analysts said.
    The European Union banned imports or transfer of potash by the bloc from Belarus as part of its wide-ranging economic sanctions on Belarus on Thursday, a month after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land.
    Belarus will now need to find other countries and ports to ship its top export via the Baltic Sea.
    “At first glance, this looks like a killer measure for the industry,” said Vadim Iossub, senior analyst at Alpari Eurasia.
    The Baltic port of Klaipeda in Lithuania handles 97% of Belarusian potash exports – about 9.7 million tonnes a year. The potash exports are the main source of U.S. dollar revenue for Minsk’s budget.
    Potash contracts signed before June 25 will remain unaffected, according to the EU, and this factor will delay the effect of the sanctions.
    Contracts that fall into this category include deals Belarus previously signed with China and India, the world’s two largest importers of potash, which will run until the end of 2021.
    “The real pain will come when these contracts are over,” Iossub said.
    Belarus potash company (BPC), which competes with Mosaic and Israel’s ICL among other producers, did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
    Supplies from Belarus account for 20% of the global potash trade.    Restricting the supply of such size will lead to growth in potash prices and may add to current global food inflation, BPC said in a recent comment.
    Potash prices have risen this year due to strong demand from farmers.    Food imports costs are expected to surge to record levels this year, the U.N. Food Agency said in June.
    There are no easy options to replace the Lithuanian port that moves almost all Belarusian potash out to world markets.    Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has been supporting Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko, does not have enough port capacity to handle Belarusian or its own fertilisers.
    Belarus exported potash worth $2.4 billion in 2020, of which $200 million were supplied to the EU.
(Writing by Polina Devitt; editing by William Maclean)

6/25/2021 Rare Tornado, Storms Rip Through Southern Czech Republic, Killing Three
The damages caused by a rare tornado that struck and destroyed parts of some towns are
seen in the village of Moravska Nova Ves, Czech Republic, June 25, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    MORAVSKA NOVA VES, Czech Republic (Reuters) -A rare tornado and strong storms struck along the Czech Republic’s southern border on Thursday to destroy parts of some towns, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more, emergency services and media said.
    The tornado, reported in towns around Hodonin, along the Slovak and Austrian borders and 270 km (167 miles) southeast of Prague, the capital, may have reached windspeeds above 332 kph (206 mph), a Czech Television meteorologist said.
    That would make it the strongest in the modern history of the central European nation and its first tornado since 2018.
    Strong storms ripped roofs off houses and other buildings, blew out windows, overturned cars and scattered debris through the streets.
    Workers of emergency services rested amid debris in the market town of Moravska Nova Ves, after having worked through the night.
    A spokesperson for the South Moravia region’s ambulance service told Czech Television three people died in the storms and dozens were treated for injuries.
    Czech TV reported as many as seven small towns were “massively” damaged, citing an emergency services spokesperson.    An official of one municipality, Hrusky, said half of the town was practically levelled to the ground.
    Search and rescue teams fanned out in the area, with neighbouring Austria and Slovakia also sending emergency units to help.
(Reporting by David Cerny in Moravska Nova Ves and Jason Hovet in Prague; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/25/2021 Belarus Moves Jailed Opposition Blogger Protasevich To House Arrest - BBC
FILE PHOTO: Jailed Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich takes part in a press conference about the forced landing of the
Ryanair passenger plane on which he was travelling, in Minsk, Belarus June 14, 2021. Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus has moved opposition blogger Roman Protasevich, who was arrested in May after the grounding of a Ryanair plane in Minsk, from a detention facility to house arrest, the BBC Russian service reported on Friday.
    Protasevich is now in a rented flat in Minsk, his father Dmitri Protasevich told the BBC, but said the authorities were still not providing any information to the family.
    His girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega was also moved to a rented flat, where she is living alone, her stepfather told the BBC.
    The Belarusian interior ministry and an investigative committee could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports.
    The Russian embassy in Minsk confirmed that Sapega had been moved to house arrest, the TASS news agency reported.
    The interception of the Ryanair plane flying between Athens and Vilnius on May 23 prompted international outrage, and this week the European Union imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions on Belarus over the incident.
    Belarusian authorities arrested Protasevich and Sapega after the plane landed, in an incident Western countries branded as state piracy.
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who faced months of anti-government protests last year following his contested re-election in a vote his critics said was rigged, said the interception was justified to prevent a rebellion in Belarus.
    “It is difficult for me to comment on the actions of the authorities, what their aims are,” the BBC cited Protasevich’s father as saying.    “They (Protasevich and his girlfriend) are still under the full control of the authorities, no one has dropped the charges."
    “They don’t tell us anything about Roman’s condition, about his status, it is simply a mockery.”
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/25/2021 Belarus Moves Russian Woman Arrested Off Plane To House Arrest - BBC
FILE PHOTO: Student Sofia Sapega poses for a picture in Gothenburg, Sweden, in this undated photo taken in 2019.
She and Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich were arrested in Belarus on May 23, 2021 after a
forced landing of Ryanair Flight 4978 flying from Athens to Vilnius. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus has moved Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, who was arrested with her journalist boyfriend Roman Protasevich on May 23 after the grounding of a Ryanair plane in Minsk, from a detention facility to house arrest, the BBC Russian service reported on Friday.
    Sapega’s stepfather Sergei Dudich told the BBC the move had surprised her parents and that she was now living alone in a rented flat in Minsk.
    The Belarusian interior ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/25/2021 Russia Says Britain, U.S. Are Trying To Incite Black Sea Conflict - RIA
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday accused Britain and the United States of trying to incite conflict in the Black Sea and said it would defend its borders by all possible means, including with its military, RIA cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
    Russia on Thursday warned Britain it would bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea if there were any further provocative actions by the British navy off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Katya Golubkova)

6/25/2021 Russia Warns Britain It Will Bomb Ships Next Time by Guy Faulconbridge and Katya Golubkova
A still image taken from a video released by Russia's Defence Ministry allegedly shows British Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender
filmed from a Russian military aircraft in the Black Sea, June 23, 2021. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia warned Britain on Thursday that it would bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea if there were any further provocative actions by the British navy off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.
    Russia summoned the British ambassador in Moscow for a formal diplomatic scolding after the warship breached what the Kremlin says are its territorial waters but which Britain and most of the world say belong to Ukraine.
    Britain said Russia was giving an inaccurate account of the incident.    No warning shots had been fired and no bombs had been dropped in the path of the Royal Navy destroyer Defender, it said.
    In Moscow, Russia summoned Ambassador Deborah Bronnert for a reprimand over what it said were Britain’s “dangerous” action in the Black Sea – while foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused London of “barefaced lies.”
    “We can appeal to common sense, demand respect for international law, and if that doesn’t work, we can bomb,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies.
    Ryabkov, referring to Moscow’s version of events in which a Russian aircraft bombed the path of the British destroyer, said that in future bombs would be sent “not only in its path, but also on target.”
    The Black Sea, which Russia uses to project its power in the Mediterranean, has for centuries been a flashpoint between Russia and its competitors such as Turkey, France, Britain and the United States.
    Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around its coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea to be part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.
    Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the British warship, which was travelling from the Ukrainian port of Odessa to the Georgian port of Batumi, was acting in accordance with the law and had been in international waters.
    “These are Ukrainian waters and it was entirely right to use them to go from A to B,” Johnson said.    British Defence Minister Ben Wallace accused Russian pilots of conducting unsafe aircraft manoeuvres 500 feet (152 m) above the warship.
    “The Royal Navy will always uphold international law and will not accept unlawful interference with innocent passage,” Wallace said.
    Under international law of the sea, innocent passage permits a vessel to pass through another state’s territorial waters so long as this does not affect its security.
    Britain disputed the Russian version of events, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling it “predictably inaccurate.”
    During its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia bristled at U.S. warships operating in the Black Sea, and in April the United States cancelled the deployment of two warships to the area.
    Ties between London and Moscow have been on ice since the 2018 poisoning with a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal, a mole who betrayed hundreds of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service.
    The British destroyer visited the Ukrainian port of Odessa this week, where an agreement was signed for Britain to help upgrade Ukraine’s navy.
    Russia said it had ventured as far as 3 km (2 miles) into Russian waters near Cape Fiolent, a landmark on Crimea’s southern coast near the port of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet.
    Britain’s BBC released footage from the ship showing a Russian coast guard warning that he would shoot if the British ship did not change course.
    “If you don’t change the course, I’ll fire,” a heavily accented Russian voice said in English to the British ship.    The BBC said shots were fired and that as many as 20 Russian aircraft were “buzzing” the British ship.
    Britain said the shots were part of a Russian gunnery exercise.    Russia released footage filmed from a Russian SU-24 bomber flying close to the British ship.
    “These aircraft posed no immediate threat to HMS Defender, but some of these manoeuvres were neither safe nor professional,” Britain’s Wallace said.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additonal reporting by Michael Holden and William James, Joe Brock in Singapore and Dmitry Antonov and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Kate Holton and Angus MacSwan)

6/25/2021 Respect LGBT Rights Or Leave EU, Hungary’s Orban Is Told by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators protest against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the
latest anti-LGBTQ law in Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Marton Monus/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Respect LGBT rights or leave the European Union, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Hungary’s premier as EU leaders confronted Viktor Orban over a law that bans schools from using materials seen as promoting homosexuality.
    Several EU summit participants spoke of the most intense personal clash among the bloc’s leaders in years on Thursday night.
    “It was really forceful, a deep feeling that this could not be.    It was about our values; this is what we stand for,” Rutte told reporters on Friday.
    “I said ‘Stop this, you must withdraw the law and, if you don’t like that and really say that the European values are not your values, then you must think about whether to remain in the European Union’.”
    French President Emmanuel Macron called it a “cultural battle,” acknowledging a deepening rift with increasingly assertive illiberal leaders that is hurting EU cohesion.
    “To fight against homophobic laws is to defend individual freedoms and human dignity,” he said, adding that Hungary should remain a member of the EU.
    Unless it rows back, Hungary faces a legal challenge at the EU’s highest court. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said Orban should also be subject to an as-yet untested procedure to cut EU funding for those who violate rules.
    The new mechanism was introduced as closely aligned conservative governments in Poland and Hungary have shielded one another for years from sanctions under existing measures to protect EU democratic and human rights values.
    The provisions for schools have been included in a law primarily aimed at protecting children from paedophiles, a link that Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo described as “primitive.”
    Orban, who has been Hungary’s prime minister since 2010 and faces an election next year, has become more conservative and combative in promoting what he says are traditional Catholic values under pressure from the liberal West.
    Describing himself as a “freedom fighter,” Orban told reporters before the meeting that the law was not an attack on gay people but aimed at guaranteeing parents’ right to decide on their children’s sexual education.
    The EU is pushing Orban to repeal the law – the latest in a string of restrictive policies towards media, judges, academics and migrants.
    Seventeen of the 27 EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, signed a joint letter reaffirming their commitment to protecting gay rights
    “We all made it very clear which fundamental values we adhere to,” Merkel said.
    She said she shared Macron’s assessment that some EU countries have “very different ideas” about Europe.
    Bettel, who is openly gay, said the only country other than Poland to support Orban in the discussion was Slovenia, whose prime minister has also been accused of undermining the independence of the media.
    Bettel said it was time for Brussels to test its new procedure: “Most of the time, money is more convincing than talk.”
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Timothy Heritage)

6/25/2021 Russia Says Iran Nuclear Deal Is ‘Within Reach’ - TASS
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for a meeting with U.S. special envoy Marshall Billingslea in Vienna, Austria June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said of Friday a nuclear deal with Iran is “within reach,” the TASS news agency cited him as saying.
    Iran and six world powers adjourned nuclear talks on Sunday for consultations in their capitals.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/25/2021 U.N. Rights Expert Decries Hungary’s New Anti-LGBT Law by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds the LGBT flag during a protest against a law that bans LGBTQ content in schools
and media at the Presidential Palace in Budapest, Hungary, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A Hungarian law banning the use of material in schools seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change will perpetuate stigma and discrimination, a U.N. human rights expert said on Friday.
    Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said that the legislation was challenging the “values base” of the European Union (EU).
    Hungary’s parliament passed legislation last week that bans the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change, amid strong criticism from human rights groups and opposition parties.
    Madrigal-Borloz said that he had voiced his concerns to the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban over the last months.
    “This legislation tends to perpetuate stereotypes and stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.    He also said the bill wrongly portrayed homosexuality as linked to paedophilia, which he said was “disgraceful.”
    Comprehensive sexual and gender education helps break down stigma, and “allows teachers to be well-equipped to address questions of pupils and to address bullying which as we know is a basic problem in schools all over the world,” he added.
    In 69 countries worldwide it remains a crime to be homosexual or transgender, which has no justification under international human rights law, Madrigal-Borloz told the Human Rights Council earlier on Friday.
    “I urge them to dismantle such criminalisation,” he said.
    “These criminalising provisions, even when they are not applied, create a context that is hostile to the existence of LGBT persons that is also conducive to blackmail and to significant violence affecting the every day lives of these persons,” he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff)

6/26/2021 Russian Regions Run Low On Vaccines As COVID-19 Cases Jump by Andrey Ostroukh
FILE PHOTO: People line up to receive vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outside a vaccination
centre in the State Department Store, GUM, in central Moscow, Russia June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -A central Russian region on Saturday suspended COVID-19 vaccinations for two days due to a shortage of doses, local officials said, as the country reported its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since mid-January.
    Russia is facing a surge in new cases that authorities blame on the highly infectious Delta variant and slow progress on the vaccination drive, with daily deaths hitting a record in the capital, Moscow, on Friday.
    Following shortages that suspended inoculation campaigns from Friday at some centres in the Bashkiria and Khabarovsk regions, health officials in the central Udmurtia region said vaccinations would stop until Monday due to a supply crunch.
    The Kremlin said the issue would be resolved in the coming days, and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced additional health spending of 25 billion roubles ($347 million) for the care of COVID-19 patients.
    Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said cases of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, were on the increase in the city.
    “To drastically solve the issues, you need people to get vaccinated or head to lockdowns and shut down everything,” he told state TV.
    Earlier this month, authorities in Moscow and several other regions made vaccination mandatory for people working in jobs involving close contact with the public – from hairdressers and taxi drivers to bank tellers and teachers.
    With a parliamentary election due in September, Russia’s communist party held a protest against compulsory vaccination in central Moscow on Saturday. Several dozen people took part in the rally before being dispersed by police.
    So far, 21 million of Russia’s 144 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Friday.
    Russia reported 21,665 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, more than a third of them in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to nearly 5.5 million.
    The government’s coronavirus task force said 619 people had died of COVID-19-linked causes in the past 24 hours, the highest number since late December.
($1 = 72.0870 roubles)
(Additional reporting by Gleb StolyarovEditing by Helen Popper)

6/26/2021 British Naval Destroyer That Angered Russia Docks In Georgia
The British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender arrives in the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia,
June 26, 2021. Vasil Gedenidze/British Embassy in Georgia/Handout via REUTERS
    BATUMI, Georgia, June 26 (Reuters) – The British destroyer Defender, which angered Russia by sailing through waters off Crimea, docked at the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi on Saturday.
    Russia said it had fired warning shots at the Defender, and later threatened to bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea if there were further “provocative” actions off Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The peninsula is still recognised internationally as part of Ukraine.
    The Defender’s commander, Vince Owen, said the British navy was committed to “providing reassurances and security in the region, and incredible deterrence to those who seek to undermine global security.”
    The ship has visited Istanbul in Turkey and Odessa in Ukraine as part of a tour of duty that will take its carrier group through the Suez Canal and on to East Asia.
    Owen said Britain and its allies and partners such as Georgia, which hopes one day to join the Western NATO alliance, were committed to ensuring “Black Sea regional security, stability and prosperity and Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
    Russia said it had dropped bombs in the path of the Defender on Wednesday as it was passing by Crimea, in what Moscow considered an incursion into Russian waters.
    Britain said the Defender had sailed through waters belonging to Ukraine, and that any shots fired had been part of a pre-announced Russian gunnery exercise.    It said no bombs had been dropped.
(Reporting by David Chkhikvishvili in Batumi; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/27/2021 Classified UK Defence Documents Found At Bus Stop In England, Says BBC
FILE PHOTO: The British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender is moored before a ceremony marking the warship's arrival
in the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia, June 26, 2021. Vasil Gedenidze/British Embassy in Georgia/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) -Classified documents from Britain’s defence ministry containing details about a British warship and Russia’s potential reaction to its passage through the Black Sea have been found at a bus stop in southern England, the BBC reported on Sunday.
    The BBC said the documents, almost 50 pages in all, were found “in a soggy heap behind a bus stop in Kent early on Tuesday morning” by a member of the public, who wanted to remain anonymous.
    The Ministry of Defence said it had been informed last week of “an incident in which sensitive defence papers were recovered by a member of the public.”
    “The department takes the security of information extremely seriously and an investigation has been launched.    The employee concerned reported the loss at the time.    It would be inappropriate to comment further,” a spokesperson said.
    Britain’s main opposition Labour Party said the discovery of the documents by a member of the public was “as embarrassing as it is worrying for ministers.”
    Labour’s defence policy chief John Healey said ministers needed to confirm that national security had not been undermined or security operations affected and that “procedures are in place to ensure nothing like this happens again.”
    The BBC reported that the documents, which included emails and PowerPoint presentations, related to the British warship Defender, which this month sailed through waters off the Crimean peninsula, a region Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    Russia said on Wednesday it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the ship to chase it out of what the Kremlin says are its territorial waters but which Britain and most of the world say belong to Ukraine.
    It later summoned the British ambassador in Moscow for a formal diplomatic scolding over what it described as a provocation.
    Britain rejected Russia’s account of the incident.    It said it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian “gunnery exercise”, and that no bombs had been dropped.
    It confirmed the destroyer had sailed through what it said were Ukrainian waters, describing its path as “innocent passage” in accordance with international law of the sea.
    The BBC said the documents suggested the ship’s mission was conducted in the expectation that Russia might respond aggressively.
    “What do we understand about the possible ‘welcome party’…?” asked an official at Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), the UK’s tri-service headquarters at Northwood, according to the BBC.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/28/2021 Clock Counts Down For Swedish PM Lofven As Snap Election Looms
FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven arrives for the second day of a EU summit at
the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium June 25, 2021. Aris Oikonomou/Pool via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden moved closer to a snap election on Monday after fruitless attempts to form a government by both the centre-left and centre-right blocs left Prime Minister Stefan Lofven until the end of the day to resign or call a national vote.
    Lofven lost a motion of no-confidence in parliament on June 21 after the Left Party withdrew its support, triggering frenzied talks as both the centre-left and centre-right tried to line up enough support to form a government.
    “The decision that will shake up Swedish politics,” daily Dagens Nyheter said in its front page headline on Lofven’s dilemma.    “Deadlock with just hours to go,” tabloid Aftonbladet said.
    Lofven, a former welder has headed a fragile minority coalition with the Greens since 2018, relying on support from two small centre-right parties and the Left Party to remain in power.
    Since then he has been juggling the goals of the business-friendly Centre and Liberals with that of Sweden’s former communist party, finally dropping the ball over reform of the highly regulated rental market.
    His mismatched government is a result of the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in the far-right fringe, which is now the third biggest in parliament.
    The centre-right split over whether to seek a political accord with them after the 2018 elections, with the Centre and Liberals choosing to support their former rivals instead of giving the Sweden Democrats a chance to influence policy.
    The Liberals have now changed their minds and returned to the centre-right mainstream.
    But even with their support, and that of the Sweden Democrats, the Moderates – the biggest centre-right party – does not have the votes to form a government either.
    Lofven has until midnight tonight to either hand in his resignation to the speaker of parliament or to call a snap election. Most commentators see a vote in September as the most likely outcome.
    Opinion polls show a general election might not alter the make up of parliament.
(Reporting by Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard)

6/28/2021 Belarus Tells EU Envoy To Go, Withdraws Migration Help In Sanctions Row
ILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Belarus on Monday told the European Union’s representative in Minsk to return to Brussels for consultations and said it would stop helping the 27-nation bloc combat illegal migration as retaliation against EU sanctions.
    The EU last week imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions on Belarus targeting its main export industries and access to finance over its interception of a Ryanair flight last month.
    Belarusian authorities intercepted the flight, from Athens to Vilnius, on May 23 and arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega who were on board, sparking international outrage.
    The Belarusian foreign ministry set out its response to the EU sanctions on Monday and said it was recalling its own permanent representative to Brussels for consultations.
    It announced an entry ban on EU officials responsible for the sanctions and said it was working on economic retaliatory measures against the bloc.
    “We hope that EU officials and those from its member states are aware of the damage and futility of using a forceful approach in their relations with Belarus,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    The European Commission said Belarus was taking another step into self-isolation by requesting the head of the EU delegation be recalled to Brussels.
    “Keeping channels of communication open is crucial in times of crisis.    This has always been our intention,” a spokesperson for the European Commission said.
    The foreign ministry in Minsk added that Belarus was suspending its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, an initiative that aims to deepen the EU’s ties with neighbouring former communist countries.
    The European Commission expressed its regret over this step, calling it another demonstration of the Minsk regime’s disregard for the Belarusian people, who benefited from the cooperation.
    Belarus said it would also suspend an agreement with the EU on procedures to readmit people who illegally cross the border.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Alexander Marrow/Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Cynthia Osterman)

6/28/2021 Russian Court Upholds Nine-Year Sentence For U.S. Ex-Marine Reed
FILE PHOTO: U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, stands inside
a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -A Russian appeals court on Monday upheld a nine-year prison sentence for Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who was convicted last year of endangering the lives of two police officers in August 2019, charges he denies.
    U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan, who returned to Moscow last week after leaving in April amid a diplomatic crisis, said he regretted the court’s decision.
    “Today marks another sad milestone as Trevor Reed’s appeal was denied,” Sullivan said, in comments shared on Twitter by the embassy’s spokesperson.
    “(It is) another absurd miscarriage of justice in Russia as the world watches,” Sullivan said.
    U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a Twitter post, “We are deeply troubled” by the court’s decision and that Washington would work on Reed’s behalf “until Russia does the right thing and returns him to his family.”
    Reed’s defence team plan to lodge a further appeal, the RIA news agency cited Reed’s lawyer as saying.
    President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden discussed the topic of prisoner swaps at talks in Geneva this month.
(Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)

6/28/2021 Poland Should Copy Hungarian LGBT Law, Says Polish Minister
FILE PHOTO: People attend the "Equality Parade" rally in support of the LGBT community,
in Warsaw, Poland June 19, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland should copy a Hungarian law that bans schools from using materials seen as promoting homosexuality, the Polish education minister said in comments published on Monday, as the nationalist government attacks what it calls “LGBT ideology.”
    Hungary’s premier, Viktor Orban, has outraged other European Union leaders with the law, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte telling Orban he should respect LGBT rights or leave the European Union.
    In an interview with conservative weekly Sieci published on Monday, Polish Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek praised the regulations.
    “This law states that school lessons touching on questions of sexuality must not promote gender reassignment or homosexuality,” he was quoted as saying.
    “We should copy these regulations on Polish soil in their entirety!
    Czarnek, whose views on LGBT rights and Polish-Jewish history led some to question his appointment in 2020, drew sharp criticism from the opposition last week for comments about an LGBT Equality Parade in Warsaw, when he questioned if the behaviour of its participants was normal.
    “These people come out onto the street, offend Catholics in a vulgar way … behave obscenely, and that is supposed to be OK?” he was quoted as saying on Monday.
    Poland’s nationalist government has also proposed legislation that would bar people living in same-sex couples from adopting children even as single parents.
    “While respecting the rights of people with a different sexual orientation … one should always remember the most important value, which should be the best interest of the child in any society,” the Polish justice ministry told Reuters by email on Monday.
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alicja Ptak, writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

6/28/2021 Czech President Zeman Calls Transgender People ‘Disgusting'
FILE PHOTO: Czech President Milos Zeman gestures in Vienna, Austria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech President Milos Zeman, commenting on a Hungarian law that bans LGBT material from schools, told a television interview on Sunday that he finds transgender people “disgusting.”
    Zeman, who has often espoused views outside the mainstream, was responding to a question about the law Hungary passed earlier this month, which bans the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change.
    “If you undergo a sex-change operation you are basically committing a crime of self-harm,” Zeman told CNN Prima.    “Every surgery is a risk and these transgender people to me are disgusting.”
    The Hungarian law has been strongly criticised by opposition parties at home, rights groups and by many of Hungary’s fellow European Union members.    At an EU summit last week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Hungarian premier Viktor Orban to respect LGBT rights or leave the bloc.
    More than half of the EU’s 27 member states have opposed the law but so far the Czechs have not done so.    Zeman said the condemnation amounted to meddling in a country’s internal affairs.
    Czech presidents have limited executive powers but Zeman and his predecessors have had a strong influence on public debate.    The president has also leaned toward Russia and China and criticized immigration from Muslim countries.
    “Viktor Orbán says that he is not against homosexuals, but that he is against the manipulation not only of parents, but also of children in sex education,” Zeman said.    “I see no reason to disagree with him, because I am completely annoyed by the suffragettes, the Me Too movement and Prague Pride.”
    Unless it rows back on the law, Hungary faces a legal challenge at the EU’s highest court. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said Orban should also be subject to an as-yet untested procedure to cut EU funding for those who violate rules.
    Orban, who has been Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, has become more conservative and combative in promoting what he says are traditional Christian values from what he sees as excessive Western liberalism.    Before last week’s summit he told reporters the law was aimed at guaranteeing parents’ right to decide on their children’s sexual education.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/28/2021 Russia, China Extend Friendship And Cooperation Treaty - Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the
sidelines of a BRICS summit, in Brasilia, Brazil, November 13, 2019. Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday announced the extension of a 20-year-old friendship and cooperation treaty between their countries, both of which have strained ties with the West.
    Speaking to Xi via video conference, Putin said the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship, signed in 2001, enshrined the two powers’ support for defending national unity and territorial integrity, at a time when both Moscow and Beijing are at odds with Western countries on a wide range of issues.
    “In today’s world, such agreements are of serious importance,” the Kremlin cited Putin as saying.    “In the context of increasing geopolitical turbulence, the dismantlement of arms control agreements and increased potential for conflict in different corners of the world, Russian-Chinese coordination plays a stabilising role in world affairs.”
    Putin said the agreement would be automatically extended for another five years after it expires in February 2022.
    Russia’s relations with the United States and other Western countries linger at post-Cold War lows over issues ranging from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea to allegations of Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
    Putin held a summit earlier this month with U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in which they decided to cooperate in some areas despite their tense relations.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by William Maclean)

6/29/2021 U.S. Eyes More Stable, Profitable Ties With Russia, Blinken Tells Paper
FLE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane at Ciampino Airport
in Rome, Italy June 28, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
    ROME (Reuters) -The United States hopes for more stable and profitable relations with Russia but if the latter continues to “attack”, then Washington will respond, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday.
    “If Russia continues to attack us, or to act as it did with the SolarWind attacks, the intrusions into our elections and the aggression against Navalny, then we will respond,” he told Italian daily La Repubblica.
    Blinken – who was in Rome for a meeting on international efforts to combat Islamist militia – was referring to cyberattacks and the role of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    Earlier this month U.S. President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Geneva that certain critical infrastructure should be “off-limits” to cyberattacks.
    China was “the most complicated” when it came to relations Blinken added, but said the United States respected the different relations countries had with China and that it would not ask any of them to choose between the two countries.
    “It is, however, true that when we deal with China – as an opponent, a rival or a partner – we are much more effective if we act together,” he added.
    Blinken also said that Italy had made important efforts in drafting legislation aimed at protecting its 5G network from “unreliable sellers” and that it should continue to carry out checks should investments from other countries arrive.
    The United States has lobbied Italy and other European allies to avoid using equipment made by Huawei in their next-generation networks, saying the Chinese company could pose a security risk. Huawei has rejected the accusations.
(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jason Neely)

6/29/2021 Dutch Defence Minister: ‘Irresponsible’ Russian Jets Harassed Frigate In Black Sea
Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way
to the Black Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -The Netherlands’ defence minister said on Tuesday that Russian fighter jets armed with air-to-surface missiles had harassed a Dutch navy frigate in the Black Sea earlier this month, conducting mock attacks and jamming communication systems.
    The Russian defence ministry said it had scrambled fighter jets and bombers to prevent the frigate from entering Russian waters, according to news agencies.
    The Russian military said the warplanes flew at a safe distance from the vessel and in line with international regulations.
    The Netherlands’ defence ministry said the Russian actions took place over the span of five hours on June 24 and violated rights to free use of the sea.
    The frigate, Evertsen, was sailing with Britain’s Carrier Strike Group, which was carrying out a patrol in the area at the time.
    Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten called the Russian action “irresponsible.”
    The “Evertsen has every right to sail there,” she said in a statement.    “There is no justification for this kind of aggressive act, which needlessly increases the chance of accidents.”
    She indicated the Netherlands would raise the matter with Russia at the diplomatic level.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Catherine Evans and Gareth Jones)

6/29/2021 Russians Accused Of Central African Republic Abuses In U.N. Report by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera addresses the 74th session of the United Nations
General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Russian military instructors and Central African Republic (CAR) troops targeted civilians with excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and large-scale looting, according to a United Nations report seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
    The sanctions experts report to the U.N. Security Council also accuses groups linked to the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels of forced recruitment of children, attacks on peacekeepers, sexual violence and the looting of aid groups.
    Russia and France, which has some 300 troops in the African nation, have been competing for influence in the gold and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million.    Russia sent hundreds of military instructors to arm and train government troops against rebels.
    “Russian military advisers could not and did not take part in the killings or robberies.    This is yet another lie,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday in response to the accusations in the U.N. report.
    CAR has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in March 2013.
    In recent months the army – backed by U.N. peacekeepers, Russian and Rwandan troops – has been battling the CPC rebels seeking to overturn a Dec. 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.
    Among the accusations detailed in the annual U.N. sanctions report is that CAR soldiers, known as FACA, and Russian instructors killed at least six civilians at a mosque during an operation against CPC rebels.
    “FACA soldiers and Russian instructors targeted the mosque despite the known presence of civilians and without respect for the religious nature of the building.    According to eyewitnesses … no efforts were made to distinguish between civilians and fighters,” the U.N. experts wrote.
    The U.N. experts also recounted an accusation that CAR troops and Russian instructors looted an aid group and stole goods worth $1,850, including kits for sexual violence victims.
    Russia told the U.N. experts that as of April 18, there were 532 instructors in Central African Republic.    The experts, however, noted “that multiple sources estimated that figure to be significantly higher, ranging from 800 to 2,100,” with instructors deployed including people who said they were from Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
    Top CAR and Russian officials told the U.N. experts they were aware of the accusations but rejected them, saying it was the interest of the rebels to spread those stories.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

6/29/2021 Czechs Ban Travel To Russia, Tunisia Due To Coronavirus Variants
FILE PHOTO: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a passenger plane of Smartwings airline at Vaclav Havel Airport due
to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns in Prague, Czech Republic, May 21, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech Health Ministry has banned Czechs from travelling to Russia, Tunisia and other countries due to the spread of COVID-19 variants there, the ministry said on Tuesday.
    The Czech Republic on Monday recorded a week-on-week rise in new cases to 157 from 118 a week ago, a sign of a potential turn in the declining trend that has been in place since the latest wave of infections peaked in March.
    The travel ban will take effect on Thursday for Russia and next week for Tunisia.    Both countries have recorded surges in new cases in recent days.
    The ministry added Russia, Tunisia, Paraguay and Namibia to a dozen others including India and Brazil where non-essential travel has already been banned.    Tunisia is a popular tourist destination for Czechs.
    The government has called a special session for Thursday to discuss a response to the spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India.
    The Czech Republic has so far identified 120 cases of the Delta variant, believed to be more transmissible than previous variants, the country’s National Institute of Public Health said.
    The country of 10.7 million was one of the worst hit in Europe, suffering four waves of infections and 30,298 deaths.
    It has fully vaccinated over 3.1 million people and had used just over 8 million vaccine doses as of Monday.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Editing by William Maclean)

6/29/2021 U.S. To Move To Restrict Travel To Belarus - Source
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department was set to issue an order as early as Tuesday that would prohibit anyone in the United States from using U.S.-based travel services to purchase airline tickets to Belarus, a source familiar with the order told Reuters.
    In May, the U.S. government advised passenger airlines to use “extreme caution” when flying over Belarus after authorities from that country forced a Ryanair flight to land in the capital, Minsk, and arrested a dissident journalist who was aboard.
    At the time, however, the United States stopped short of imposing any restrictions.
    A move to restrict ticket sales – a step that has been under consideration by the U.S. government for several weeks – would be mostly symbolic since relatively few tickets are purchased for travel to Belarus from U.S.-based travel services.
    The “Notice to Airmen” issued last month does not apply to cargo carriers such as United Parcel Service and Fedex Corp that fly over Belarus.
    United Airlines flies a route to India that sometimes is routed near Belarus, but no other U.S. passenger carrier typically flies through the former Soviet republic’s airspace.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis)

6/29/2021 Russian Court Rejects U.S. Marine’s Sentencing Appeal by OAN Newsroom
US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, stands inside a defendants’ cage
during a court hearing in Moscow. (Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)
    U.S. Marine Trevor Reed was ordered to remain in Russian custody after his appeal against his sentence was denied.    On Monday, the Moscow City Court upheld the American’s nine-year punishment for assaulting a police officer back in 2019.    After the court hearing, U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said despite the decision, the case was far from over.
    “I regret that the appellate court has not corrected this gross injustice,” he expressed.    “It does not in any way affect the seriousness with which I and the U.S. government will continue to pursue this matter for Trevor to get him released.”
    According to court documents, Reed traveled to Russia the summer of 2019 to visit his girlfriend and was detained after leaving a party intoxicated.    While being driven to the police station, prosecutors alleged Reed assaulted an officer and caused the police car to swerve dangerously.    Sullivan noted there was “flimsy evidence” in this case and said U.S. officials believe Reed’s trial was a sham.
    “He is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” he explained.    “He’s a remarkable and resilient young man and I won’t say anything, any more than that.”
    Prior to the appeal decision, Republicans pressed Joe Biden to discuss Reed’s case and the case of Paul Whelan with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met earlier this month.    Biden said the issue was discussed, but gave no specifics as to whether the conversation went well.
    “I said the families of the detained Americans came up and we discussed it, we’re going to follow through with that discussion,” he announced.    “I am not going to walk away on it.”
    Lawyers for Reed will now be able to appeal to a higher court in Russia and vowed that if needed, they will take the case to the country’s Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

6/30/2021 Russia Says ‘Non-Starter’ To Allow Syria Aid Through Iraq by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Vassily Nebenzia, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the United Nations
Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S, April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s U.N. envoy Vassily Nebenzia on Wednesday described as a “non-starter” a bid to reopen a second border crossing into Syria from Iraq for aid deliveries and he is only discussing a possible extension of U.N. approval for a crossing from Turkey.
    The United Nations has appealed to the U.N. Security Council to extend a long-running cross-border aid operation into war-torn Syria, which is due to expire on July 10, warning that a failure to do so would be devastating for millions of people.
    The 15-member Security Council is negotiating a resolution, drafted by Ireland and Norway, that aims to authorize aid deliveries through two crossings: one from Turkey and one from Iraq.
    Council veto-power Russia – an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – has questioned the importance of the cross-border aid operation, arguing that aid can be delivered to northern Syria from the capital Damascus.
    The council first authorized a cross-border aid operation into Syria in 2014 at four points.    Last year, it reduced that to one point from Turkey into a rebel-held area in Syria due to Russian and Chinese opposition over renewing all four.
    “What we hear from our colleagues about reopening the closed cross-border points is really a non-starter.    We are discussing the one that is remaining,” Nebenzia said.
    “The operation was introduced in special circumstances when there was no access to many parts of Syria,” he said.    “But, of course, today it is now an outdated operation and eventually it will be closed.”
    The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has criticized the draft resolution for only seeking authorization for two crossing points and not three.
    “Alleviating the dire suffering of millions of Syrians requires the Security Council to do more,” she said on Friday.
    A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the five permanent members: Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain.     In the past decade, the council has been divided on Syria – Russia has vetoed 16 resolutions related to Syria and was backed by China for many of those votes.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/30/2021 U.S. Calls On Russia To Stop Central Africa Violence
FILE PHOTO: New U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield holds a news conference to mark the start of the
U.S. presidency of the U.N. Security Council for March, at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Segar
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations called on Russia on Wednesday to stop violence by “mercenaries working as an arm of Russia’s Ministry of Defense” in the Central African Republic (CAR) and hold accountable those responsible.
    U.N. sanctions monitors reported to the Security Council that Russian military instructors and CAR troops targeted civilians with excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and large-scale looting.
    Russia has sent hundreds of military instructors to arm and train government troops against rebels in the gold- and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million.    The Kremlin described the accusations in the U.N. report as a “lie.”
    “Russia must immediately stop the violence, hold those responsible accountable, and remove mercenaries endangering U.N. peacekeepers and undermining their crucial work in support of peace and security in the CAR,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement.
    Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Wednesday that the report was full of “ungrounded accusations.”
    CAR has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in March 2013.
    In recent months the army – backed by U.N. peacekeepers, Russian and Rwandan troops – has been battling the CPC rebels seeking to overturn a Dec. 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/30/2021 Key Remarks From Russian President Putin’s Annual Phone-In
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in an annual nationwide televised phone-in
show in Moscow, Russia June 30, 2021. Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The following are highlights from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in on Wednesday.
Putin spoke in Russian.    The quotes below were translated into English by Reuters.
    “I thought that I needed to be protected as long as possible.    So I chose to be vaccinated with Sputnik V.    The military is getting vaccinated with Sputnik V, and after all I’m the commander-in-chief.
    “After the first shot, I didn’t feel anything at all.    About four hours later, there was some tenderness where I had the shot.    I did the second (shot) at midday.    At midnight, I measured my temperature.    It was 37.2 (Celsius).    I went to sleep, woke up and my temperature was 36.6.    That was it.
    “I don’t support mandatory vaccination, and I continue to hold this point of view.”
    “Why should I meet with Zelenskiy if he has given up his country to full external control?    Vital issues for Ukraine are not resolved in Kyiv, but in Washington and partly in Berlin and Paris.    What is there to discuss?    I’m not refusing (to meet him), I just need to understand what to talk about.”
    “This is of course a provocation. That’s absolutely clear.    What did they want to show and which goals did they want to achieve?    First of all, it had several elements.    It was not only carried out by the British but also the Americans, because the British destroyer entered our territorial waters during the day, and early in the morning, at 7:30, I think an American strategic spy plane flew out of a NATO military in Greece, in Crete.    This was reported to me… We saw it well, observed it.
    It was obvious that the destroyer entered (the waters near Crimea) pursuing, first of all, military goals, trying to use the spy plane to see how our forces would stop such provocations, to see what is activated and where, how things work and where everything is located.
    There was also a political component.    The meeting in Geneva had just happened, so why was this provocation needed, what was its goal? To underscore that those people (the Americans and British) do not respect Crimeans’ choice to join the Russian Federation.
    Even if we had sunk the ship it is hard to imagine that the world would have been on the verge of World War Three because those doing it (the provocation) know that they could not emerge as victors from such a war.
    This is very important.    I don’t think that we would have been happy with that development… But at least we know what we are fighting for.    We are on our territory, we fight for ourselves, for our future.    We were not the ones to go to them, flying thousands of kilometres and arriving by waterways.    They were the ones who came to our borders and violated our territorial waters.”
    “A time will come when, I hope, I can say that such and such a person is worthy in my opinion of leading such a wonderful country like Russia, our homeland.”
    “I really hope that the realisation that the world is changing, as well as the need to reassess our priorities and interests in this fluctuating world, will lead to a better world order for our (international) relations, including with the United States.”
    “We don’t plan on blocking anyone, we plan to work with them.    But there are problems.    They tell us to buzz off and don’t comply with our demands and Russian laws.
    “We tell them ‘you are spreading child pornography, instructions on how to commit suicide and how to prepare Molotov cocktails and so on, you need to take that down’.    They don’t even listen to what we are saying.    This is wrong.”
    “We have to suppress inflation, which is why the central bank slightly raised the key rate for there not to be an excess supply of money in the economy.    I hope that inflation will return to the 4% target but we are unlikely to achieve that this year.    I think it will reach 5%.”
(Reporting by Moscow bureau; Editing by Toby Chopra/Alex Richardson/Andrew Osborn)

6/30/2021 Swiss Pick U.S. F-35 Jet And Patriot Missiles For Defence Needs by John Revill and Tim Hepher
FILE PHOTO: Two F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets of the Swiss Air Force take off at the
Swiss Army base in Payerne, Switzerland, August 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    ZURICH (Reuters) -Switzerland has chosen Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II as its next-generation fighter jet, the government said on Wednesday, angering opponents who have pledged a new referendum to overturn what they dubbed an unnecessary “Ferrari” option.
    The $5.5 billion deal adds a 15th nation to the world’s largest weapons project – a family of interconnected, single-engine jets to be used by the United States and its allies.
    It came alongside a $2.1 billion agreement to buy the Patriot surface-to-air missile system from U.S. group Raytheon, with European competitors losing out on both deals.
    The F-35 has faced multiple budget overruns, delays and technical setbacks, but is building export momentum.    Critics say the project, valued at trillions of dollars over its lifetime, has seen costs soar while failing to meet goals on capability.
    Neutral Switzerland will buy 36 F-35As after an evaluation found it had “the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government said.
    The aircraft beat bids from Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Rafale from France’s Dassault and the four-nation Eurofighter built by Germany- and Spain-backed Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo and Britain’s BAE Systems.
    The decision drew immediate criticism from anti-armaments campaigners and a left-wing parties who will now launch a campaign for a referendum on the issue, the third Swiss vote on buying fighter jets.
    Voters seven years ago rejected the purchase of Gripen jets from Sweden’s Saab, while the 6 billion Swiss franc ($6.5 billion) funding, which led to the decision to buy the F-35As, was only narrowly approved last year.
    Opponents say Switzerland doesn’t need cutting-edge warplanes to defend its Alpine territory which a supersonic jet can cross in 10 minutes.
    “The decision is simply incomprehensible,” said Priska Seiler Graf, a member of parliament for the left-leaning Social Democrats (SP), who has raised concerns about the cost.
    “It’s not just about buying them, but the upkeep and operating costs,” she added.    “We should seek a European solution … we don’t want to be dependent on the United States.”
    The government picked the Patriot missile system over Franco-Italian group Eurosam.
    Defence Minister Viola Amherd said the F-35As were chosen after being the most impressive performer in an evaluation and offered best value for money.
    Total costs of 15.5 billion francs came in 2 billion cheaper than the next lowest bidder, the government said, based on buying and operating the aircraft over 30 years.
    “We would not have bought a Ferrari if a VW would do and the Ferrari would be three times more expensive,” Amherd told a news conference.
    The Swiss parliament now has to approve the funding for the purchase, with the debate scheduled for early next year.    It can debate costs and terms but not revisit the model selection.
    The fighter decision was closely watched as the first of three face-offs ahead of Finland and Canada.
    Lockheed’s stealthy fifth-generation fighter recently added Poland to its list of European customers which includes Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, and Britain.
    U.S. President Joe Biden had lobbied for American companies when meeting his Swiss counterpart while in Geneva for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month.
    Analysts said the decision to snub both the European fighter jet candidates and surface-to-air missile offering could be seen as a Swiss rebuff to the European Union in a time of strained relations between Bern and Brussels after the collapse of talks over a new agreement governing trade and other matters.
    By doubling down on U.S. suppliers the government could antagonise the 49.8% of voters who opposed funding last year.
    Anti-arms campaigners say Switzerland, which last fought a foreign war more than 200 years ago and has no discernable enemies, does not need cutting-edge fighters.
    But supporters have said Switzerland needs to be able to protect itself without relying on others.
    Jonas Kampus, political secretary of the Group for a Switzerland without an Army, said he was confident of winning a referendum against the F-35As.
    The government “can expect a heavy defeat in the vote. The follow-up polls in September (2020) showed a clear rejection of the F-35 among the voting population,” he said.
    Marionna Schlatter, a lawmaker with the Greens Party said the September poll was too close to ignore opposition concerns.
    “The people don’t want a Ferrari in the air,” she said.
($1 = 0.9240 Swiss francs)
(Writing by John Revill and Tim HepherAdditional reporting by Michael Shields and Mike StoneEditing by Alexander Smith and Mark Potter)

6/30/2021 Putin Says Russia Could Have Sunk UK Warship Without Starting World War Three by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual nationwide televised phone-in
show in Moscow, Russia June 30, 2021. Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia could have sunk a British warship that it accused of illegally entering its territorial waters without starting World War Three and accused Washington of a role in the “provocation.”
    Tensions between Moscow and London soared last week after Russia challenged the right of HMS Defender to transit waters near Russian-annexed Crimea, something Britain said it had every right to do.
    Putin’s comments add menace to earlier Russian warnings that Moscow would bomb British naval vessels in the Black Sea in the event of further provocative actions by the British navy near heavily fortified Crimea.
    Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and Britain and most of the world recognise the Black Sea peninsula as part of Ukraine, not Russia.
    In an account of last week’s incident which London said it did not recognise, Russia said it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of the British warship which was en route from Ukraine to Georgia.
    Putin, speaking during his annual question and answer session with voters, signalled his anger over what he called “a provocation” designed to reveal how Russian forces in Crimea reacted to such intrusions.
    When asked if the world had stood on the precipice of World War Three during the standoff, Putin said: “Of course not.”
    “Even if we had sunk the ship it is hard to imagine that the world would have been on the verge of World War Three because those doing it (the provocation) know that they could not emerge as victors from such a war,” he added.
    Putin accused the United States and Britain of planning the episode together, saying a U.S. spy plane had taken off from Greece earlier on the same day to watch how Russia would respond to the British warship.
    “It was obvious that the destroyer entered (the waters near Crimea) pursuing, first of all, military goals, trying to use the spy plane to see how our forces would stop such provocations, to see what is activated and where, how things work and where everything is located.”
    Putin said Russia had realised what the aim of the exercise was and had responded in a way that would only give the other side the information Moscow deemed necessary.
    Putin said he saw a political element to the incident, which took place shortly after he had met U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva.
    “The meeting in Geneva had just happened, so why was this provocation needed, what was its goal?    To underscore that those people (the Americans and British) do not respect Crimeans’ choice to join the Russian Federation,” he said.
    The Russian leader accused London and Washington of a lack of gratitude, saying he had earlier this year given the order for Russian forces to pull back from near Ukraine’s borders after their build-up had generated concern in the West.
    “We did this,” said Putin.    “But instead of reacting positively to this and saying ‘OK, we’ve understood your response to our grumbling’ – instead of that, what did they do? They barged across our borders.”
(Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alex Richardson and Catherine Evans)

6/30/2021 Swedish Right-Wing Hopeful Seeks To Woo Centrists In PM Bid
FILE PHOTO: Ulf Kristersson, leader of Sweden's Moderate Party, announces at a news conference, after his meeting with the Speaker of the
Parliament that his attempt to form a government failed, in Stockholm, Sweden October, 14 2018. TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s centre-right Moderates offered centrists a raft of policies favoured by their mainly rural voters on Wednesday, in a bid to secure support for leader Ulf Kristersson’s bid to become prime minister.
    Social Democrat Stefan Lofven’s fragile centre-left minority government collapsed this month after the Left Party withdrew over plans to ease some rent controls.
    Lofven, in office since an inconclusive 2018 election, quit on Monday after losing a confidence vote in parliament last week.
    Sweden Moderates leader Kristersson is lobbying hard for support in the 349-parliament ahead of a vote which could come as early as Monday.
    To take office, he must avoid an absolute majority of deputies voting against his candidacy.
    Four parties, who combined have the 175 votes need to reject him as premier, have already said they will vote against him – primarily over his decision to cooperate with the far-right, anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.
    However, to be accepted, Kristersson needs just a single member of those parties to refrain from voting against him.
    Wednesday’s policy offer of funds for regional airports, more police for rural areas and support for a northern rail link, explicitly targeted erstwhile allies in the Centre Party.    It was formed part of a Moderate-led four-party coalition that ruled Sweden between 2006 and 2014.
    “If the Centre Party is prepared to accept a Moderate-led government, such a government will implement a comprehensive package for rural Sweden as soon as possible,” the Moderates said in a statement.
    Although the pro-farmer Centre Party swiftly rejected the package, Kristersson is hoping that it will be enough to sway at least one member to break rank.
    “The government issue is completely dependent on which parties the Moderates intend to cooperate with,” Anders W Jonsson, Centre Party Parliament Group Leader told the TT news agency.    “But we are pleasantly surprised that the Moderates are suddenly starting to take an interest in rural issues.”
    If Kristersson loses the vote the speaker of parliament will ask another party leader to try and form a government.
    If all four leaders are voted down, a snap election will be held within three months.    Snap elections will not replace the election scheduled for September next year.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Jon Boyle)

6/30/2021 Putin, In COVID-19 Vaccine Push, Says He Got Sputnik V Shot
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a news conference after his meeting with U.S
President Joe Biden at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland June 16, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin told Russians on Wednesday to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a wave of cases, and said for the first time that he had received Russia’s Sputnik V shot.
    The Kremlin had previously said that Putin, 68, received a two-dose vaccine in March and April, but it gave no further details and did not release images of him getting it.
    That lack of publicity has came under the spotlight as officials concerned about slow uptake to coax or compel people to get the COVID-19 shots, which are readily available.
    Putin used his annual televised phone-in on Wednesday to cast Russia’s four vaccines as highly effective and safe, while taking a swipe at shots that are widely used in the West.
    “As you can see, everything is in order, and thank God we don’t have such tragic situations after vaccinations like AstraZeneca or Pfizer,” he said, adding that 23 million of Russia’s more than 144 million population had been vaccinated.
    Asked which shot he’d had, Putin said he had been asked not to reveal its name so as not to give the product a competitive advantage, but went on to say it was Sputnik V. Moscow has not approved any foreign vaccines.
    “I thought that I needed to be protected for as long as possible.    So I chose to be vaccinated with Sputnik V.    The military is getting vaccinated with Sputnik V, and after all I’m the commander-in-chief,” he said.
    “After the first shot, I didn’t feel anything at all.    About four hours later, there was some tenderness where I had the shot.    I did the second at midday.    At midnight, I measured my temperature.    It was 37.2 (Celsius).    I went to sleep, woke up and my temperature was 36.6. That was it.
    “I don’t support mandatory vaccination, and I continue to hold this point of view,” Putin said.
    Russia launched its inoculation programme in January with the aim of vaccinating 60% of the population by the autumn, but the Kremlin said this week low uptake meant it would fall short of that target.
    This week, Moscow began offering the one-dose Sputnik Light shot to some of the millions of migrants, many from Central Asia, that work in the city.    The 1,300 rouble ($18) cost of the vaccine will be charged to their employers.
    “COVID is everywhere at the moment and I don’t want to get infected, so I wanted to get vaccinated,” said Usanboi, a chef from Uzbekistan, as he queued for a shot.
    Russia reported 669 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide on Wednesday, the highest official daily total since the pandemic began.    It also confirmed 21,042 new cases in the previous 24 hours, including 5,823 in Moscow.     Officials have blamed the surge in cases on the Delta variant.
($1 = 73.1317 roubles)
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Andrew Osborn and Gennday Novik; writing by Tom Balmforth and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Catherine Evans)

6/30/2021 East-West Rift Over Values As Slovenia Assumes EU’s Presidency by Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: The European and Slovenian flags flutter ahead of the start of Slovenia's EU
presidency in Medvode, Slovenia June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/File Photo
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – Amid high tension between east and west over democratic values, the European Union’s presidency passes on Thursday to Slovenia, led by a nationalist who has a history of crossing swords with the EU executive in debates over democracy.
    Prime Minister Janez Jansa, an admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump and a blunt tweeter, clashed with Brussels over media freedoms in the run-up to the tiny former Yugoslav republic’s six-month stint leading the 27-nation bloc.
    Jansa, 62, is also close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose disagreements with western Europe came to an ill-tempered head at a summit last week over a law that bans schools from using materials seen as promoting homosexuality
    Slovenia’s priorities for its Presidency of the Council of the EU include bolstering Europe’s post-pandemic recovery, and its resilience, strategic autonomy and rule of law.
    But its turn at the helm from July 1 – setting the agenda of inter-government meetings and representing the EU in some international forums – may also put a spotlight on the growing rift within the bloc over its common values.
    In western capitals, the increasingly assertive coalition of eastern leaders is being watched with concern.
    At last week’s summit, where Jansa and Poland’s prime minister were reportedly the only leaders to back Orban on Hungary’s anti-LGBT law, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of a fundamental “East-West divide.”
    “This is not a ‘Viktor Orban problem’ … This is a problem that goes deeper,” he said.
    Jansa told reporters at the summit the LGBT debate was “a sincere exchange of views that, at times, got very heated” but calmed down once the facts were clarified.    He said he did not think it would cause any unnecessary new divisions.
    “Slovenia and many other countries do not want to be part of any new divisions in Europe.    There were enough of those.    We have joined the EU to become united, not divided,” he said.
    Some academics believe an “Eastern European Union” is emerging based on positions that contradict fundamental EU values such as the rule of law, human rights, media freedom and LGBT rights.
    “I think that the whole attitude of this alignment is very anti-European.    It shows signs of an establishment of some sort of a new Iron Curtain,” said Marko Milosavljevic, a professor of journalism and media policy at the university of Ljubljana.
    Jansa, who has also backed Poland in its battle with the EU’s ruling commission over Warsaw’s reforms of the judiciary, said the commission could sort out any problems that arose with any law in a member state.
    “In the end, we always get a legally-binding decision that we must comply with,” he said at last week’s summit.
    Georg Riekeles, associate director of the European Policy Centre think tank, noted the latest report of the NGO Freedom House ranks Slovenia above     Italy, Spain, France and Germany in terms of political rights and civil liberties.
    Its presidency will nevertheless focus minds on these issues, Riekeles said.
    “This is something that the Slovenian presidency and Prime Minister Jansa have to take seriously,” he said.    “In the context of the presidency, there is no avoiding of scrutiny on the issue of effective democratic rights, the respect of the rule of law.”
    The EU executive, the European Commission, recently accused Poland, Hungary and Slovenia of undermining media freedoms, accusing Jansa of smearing a journalist who had reported on efforts to overhaul his country’s national press agency.
Jansa rejected accusations that he had bullied the reporter.
(Editing by John Chalmers and Philippa Fletcher)

    This page created on 4/1/2021, and updated each month by 4/30/2021, 5/31/2021, 6/30/2021.

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