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It seems that fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden could be living in luxury at a hotel at a Moscow airport.
The Novotel Moscow Sheremetyevo picks travelers up from the airport, transports them in a bus and houses them on a sealed floor, ensuring that they never step on Russian soil.
It has a fitness centre, games room, library, Turkish/steam bath, and indoor pool.
The hotel is just 35 minutes from central Moscow and with 493 rooms, it is one of the largest in the area.
Edward Snowden is thought to be hiding in the Novotel Moscow Sheremetyevo
Guests can treat them self to a massage and have LCD televisions in each room.
Edward Snowden requested asylum in Russia after he leaked papers revealing many of America’s secrets.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden political asylum – as long as he stops damaging “our American partners” with his leaks.
“Russia never hands over anybody anywhere and has no intention to do so,” said the Kremlin leader, defying a specific U.S. request.
“If he [Edward Snowden] wants to remain here there is one condition – he should stop his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners no matter how strange this may sound coming from me.”
Vladimir Putin showed he does not want to provoke a new Cold War in relations with the U.S. by firmly insisting Edward Snowden should stop his disclosures on covert operations which have caused embarrassment to America and infuriated the country’s allies in the EU.
Fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden has sent asylum requests to 21 countries, according to a statement published by WikiLeaks.
They include China, France, Ireland and Venezuela. Russia and Norway confirmed they had received applications.
But Russia said Edward Snowden later withdrew the application as the Kremlin had set conditions.
Edward Snowden accuses President Barack Obama of putting pressure on the countries to which he has applied.
The 30-year-old former intelligence systems analyst, who is holed up at Moscow airport, is wanted by the US on charges of leaking secrets.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to discuss Edward Snowden’s case in talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Brunei.
The WikiLeaks press release said that most of the asylum requests – including to Russia itself – were handed to the Russian consulate at Sheremetyevo airport late on Sunday for delivery to the relevant embassies in Moscow.
The requests were submitted by Sarah Harrison, a British member of the WikiLeaks legal team acting as Edward Snowden’s representative, the statement added.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said Edward Snowden withdrew the application to Russia because Moscow had said he should give up “anti-American activity”.
“After learning of Russian’s position yesterday, voiced by President Putin … he abandoned his intention [of staying] and his request to be able to stay in Russia,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had said that while Moscow “never hands over anybody anywhere”, Edward Snowden could only stay on condition that he stopped damaging Russia’s “American partners” with his leaks.
Edward Snowden has reportedly been in the transit area of Sheremetyevo since arriving there from Hong Kong on June 23.
Dmitry Peskov confirmed he was still there and had not crossed into Russian territory, adding that the former analyst had never been a Russian agent and had never worked with its intelligence services.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski said on Twitter his country had received an application but that he would not be recommending granting the request.
Fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden has sent asylum requests to 21 countries
Norway’s foreign ministry later said its embassy in Moscow had received an application by fax which was “probably from him”.
But Norway, Poland, Germany, Austria, Finland and Switzerland said asylum requests could only be made on their soil.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is on a visit to Moscow, said Caracas had not yet received an asylum application from Edward Snowden but that he had “done something very important for humanity” and “deserved the world’s protection”.
“The world’s conscience should react, the world youth should react, the decent people who want a peaceful world should react, everyone should react and find solidarity with this young man who has denounced and altered the world that they [the US] pretend to control.”
Edward Snowden had previously submitted an application to Ecuador, whose embassy in London is sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and to Iceland.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa told the Agence France-Presse news agency on Monday that his country would process Edward Snowden’s asylum request if he managed to enter an Ecuadorean embassy.
However, if he can complete his asylum request on Russian territory, then “the situation can be processed and resolved there,” President Correa added.
Details have also emerged of a letter from Edward Snowden to President Rafael Correa, thanking Ecuador for guaranteeing “my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong – I could never have risked travel without that”.
Speaking in Tanzania on Monday, President Barack Obama said Moscow and Washington had held “high level discussions” about Edward Snowden, who he said had travelled to Moscow without valid documents.
Edward Snowden describes himself as “a stateless person”, accusing the US government of stopping him from exercising the “basic right…to seek asylum”.
“The president ordered his vice president to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions,” he is quoted by WikiLeaks as saying.
“This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.”
The leaking of thousands of classified intelligence documents has led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.
Asylum requests to 21 countries:
- Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia (withdrawn), Spain, Switzerland, Venezuela
Edward Snowden is still in the transit area at Moscow airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed.
Vladimir Putin said intelligence leaker Edward Snowden remained a free man, and the sooner he chose a destination the better.
The US said earlier that it did not seek “confrontation”, but that Russia should hand over Edward Snowden.
Because Edward Snowden is in the pre-immigration area of the airport, he is technically not yet on Russian soil.
The Russians have rejected American charges that they have assisted Edward Snowden.
China has also rejected similar charges, saying accusations that it allowed him to leave Hong Kong despite a warrant for his arrest were “groundless and unacceptable”.
Edward Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow on Sunday. The US has revoked Edward Snowden’s passport, and he has applied for asylum in Ecuador.
He was expected to board a flight to the Venezuelan capital Caracas on Monday but never appeared.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed that Edward Snowden is still in the transit area at Moscow airport
Speaking at a news conference earlier on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to comply with common law practices between countries and extradite Edward Snowden to America.
“There are standards of behavior between sovereign nations. There is common law,” John Kerry said.
“We would simply call on our friends in Russia to respect the fact that a partner nation- a co-member of the permanent five of the United Nations [Security Council] – has made a normal request under legal systems.”
But President Vladimir Putin said that Russian security agencies “didn’t work and aren’t working” with Edward Snowden.
His comments back up those of his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who earlier insisted that “we are in no way involved with either Mr. Snowden, his relations with US justice, nor his movements around the world”.
Edward Snowden, 30, is wanted by the US for revealing to the media details of a secret government surveillance programme, which he obtained while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA).
He is charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence.
Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced new laws passed in Russia as an “attack on citizens’ rights”.
In a recent interview, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called on Russian President Vladimir Putin “not to be afraid of his own people”.
Mikhail Gorbachev also criticized Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, saying it was full of “thieves and corrupt officials”.
The laws include fines for organizing unsanctioned protests, stiffer libel penalties, a wider definition of treason and restrictions on websites.
In January, Human Rights Watch accused President Vladimir Putin of unleashing “the worst political crackdown in Russia’s post-Soviet history” since returning to the Kremlin for a third term in May 2012.
The group also said he had overseen “the swift reversal of former President Dmitry Medvedev’s few, timid advances on political freedoms”.
A number of opposition leaders have been arrested since major anti-government protests began to be staged in Moscow and other big cities following the disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011.
Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced new laws passed in Russia as an attack on citizens’ rights
Mikhail Gorbachev said he was “astonished” by the number of controversial laws passed in Russia since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin.
“The common thread running through all of them is an attack on the rights of citizens,” he said.
“For goodness sake, you shouldn’t be afraid of your own people.”
“What people want and expect their president to do is to restore an open, direct dialogue with them. He shouldn’t take offence at this.”
“He should concentrate on trying to drag Russia out of the difficult situation that she is in,” Mikhail Gorbachev added.
Mikhail Gorbachev claimed that Vladimir Putin “sometimes loses his temper”.
“Once he said that <<Gorbachev’s tongue should be cut short>>.”
“I get the feeling that he is very tense and bored. Not everything is going well. I think he should change his style and make readjustments to the regime,” he added.
Mikhail Gorbachev also expressed concern about the president’s entourage.
“Even the inner circle, those by his side, there are so many thieves and corrupt officials there,” he said.
“If things don’t change, Russia will continue to drift like a piece of ice in the Arctic Ocean.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a tough new bill into law banning smoking in public.
Under the new legislation, smoking in restaurants, long-distance trains and housing block entrance halls will be illegal.
The government has made reducing smoking one of the cornerstones of its bid to improve public health.
Russia has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, with more than four in 10 Russians considered smokers.
Parliament passed the bill earlier in February, with only one deputy in the State Duma voting against the legislation.
The law “On protecting the health of citizens from the danger of passive smoking and the consequences of the use of tobacco” will come into force on June 1.
On that date, smoking will be banned within 15 m of entrances to stations, airports, metro stations and ports; in workplaces; in entrances to apartment blocks; and in children’s playgrounds and on beaches.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a tough new bill into law banning smoking in public
Exactly one year later, smoking will be banned on long-distance trains and ships; in hotels; in restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and markets; and on suburban railway platforms.
Under the bill, a minimum retail price will be set for tobacco and its sale and advertising will be restricted.
The legislation meets some of the recommendations outlined in a World Health Organization report on smoking in Russia published in 2011.
According to that report, the retail price of a pack of 20 of the cheapest brand of cigarettes in 2010 was 11 roubles ($0.36; 0.27 euros) while a popular Western brand sold for 48 roubles ($1.6; 1.2 euros).
A Russian court has held a pre-trial hearing in the case against late anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The court said the trial would start on March 4. It is believed to be the first time in Soviet or Russian history a defendant has been tried posthumously.
Sergei Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 after accusing officials of tax fraud but was later himself accused of those crimes.
His death in custody a year later has led to a diplomatic dispute between Russia and the US.
Last year the US passed the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Russian law barring Americans from adopting Russian orphans.
Sergei Magnitsky represented London-based Hermitage Capital Management. He uncovered what he described as a web of corruption involving Russian tax officials, including the alleged theft of more than $200 million.
A Russian court has held a pre-trial hearing in the case against late anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky
After reporting the allegations to the authorities, he was himself detained on suspicion of aiding tax evasion.
US-born fund manager Bill Browder, who runs Hermitage Capital, spearheaded efforts in the US to put pressure on Russia over the Magnitsky case. Bill Browder was a major investor in Russia before Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest.
In December, a Moscow court acquitted a prison doctor accused of negligence over Sergei Magnitsky’s death.
Sergei Magnitsky had pancreatitis, but an investigation by Russia’s presidential council on human rights concluded that he had been severely beaten and denied medical treatment.
President Vladimir Putin will lead Russia tributes to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad.
The city of Stalingrad, which was renamed Volgograd in 1961, will regain its wartime name for the event, following a council decision.
Around one million people are thought to have died in the battle, as Soviet troops defeated the Germans.
It is considered one of the major turning points of World War II.
The vast death toll is not the only reason why the battle has huge significance in Russia.
It is seen as the moment when the tide was turned against the Nazis.
From Stalingrad some Soviet soldiers fought all the way to Berlin.
The defeat threw Hitler’s offensive in the Soviet Union into disarray.
The victory in World War II is one of the things that unites all Russians.
President Vladimir Putin will lead the solemn commemorations at the battle site, which will include a military parade and a wreath-laying ceremony at the eternal flame in the Hall of Heroes.
There will also be an 18-gun salute with World War II-era Soviet artillery.
President Vladimir Putin will lead Russia tributes to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad
“At the heart of all Russia’s victories and achievements are patriotism, faith and strength of spirit,” Vladimir Putin said in a televised speech on Friday.
“In World War II, these true values inspired our people and our army.”
Some German veterans have also been invited to the tribute, along with senior military commanders from Russia’s allies in the war – Britain and the US.
On Wednesday, the council of Volgograd passed a decision to restore the city’s wartime name of Stalingrad on six specific days a year.
The dates, all associated with military commemorations, are February 2, May 9, June 22, August 23, September 2 and November 19.
Under the decision, the title “Hero City Stalingrad” will be used during commemorations as “a symbol of Volgograd”, the council said.
“We may use this symbol officially in our speeches, reports and while conducting public events,” the council ruling states.
The decision was taken after “numerous requests” from World War II veterans, officials said.
The city has had three names during the past century. It was originally known as Tsaritsyn before being renamed in 1925 in honor of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who led Bolshevik forces there during the Russian Civil War.
The German attack on Stalingrad began on August 19, 1942.
Stalingrad was a strategically important city in their campaign to occupy the south of Russia and take control of the Caucasus oilfields.
It was also of symbolic importance because of its name.
After six months of ferocious fighting, Soviets troops eventually smashed the German siege.
It is one of the bloodiest battles in modern history.
Catherine Deneuve has defended fellow movie star Gerard Depardieu over his move to Belgium.
In an open letter Catherine Deneuve voiced fury that another actor, Philippe Torreton, had attacked Gerard Depardieu for leaving France “with a load of dosh”.
Catherine Deneuve said “he [Gerard Depardieu] is a great actor and you’re just expressing your resentment”. She starred with Gerard Depardieu in several classic French films.
Gerard Depardieu has criticized the Socialist government for its new 75% wealth tax.
Next year, the top rate of income tax in France is due to become 75% on earnings above 1 million euros ($1.3 million). Belgium’s highest tax rate is currently 50%.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has condemned Gerard Depardieu’s decision as “shabby”.
Catherine Deneuve has defended fellow movie star Gerard Depardieu over his move to Belgium
In her letter, headlined “Monsieur Torreton…” in the left-wing daily Liberation, Catherine Deneuve accused Philippe Torreton of “pettiness”.
“To take aim at his physique! His talent! This <<mess>>you speak of – what right do you have, what democratic motive do you claim as grounds for your dirty condemnation?”
Gerard Depardieu, 63, announced earlier this month that he was moving just over the French border to the small Belgian town of Nechin.
Catherine Deneuve starred with him in some landmarks of French cinema, including The Last Metro and, more recently, the Franco-Belgian comedy, Potiche.
On Wednesday another star of French cinema, Brigitte Bardot, also defended Gerard Depardieu, saying he was the victim of “unfair vilification”.
“Even if he is a fan of bullfighting, that does not prevent him being an exceptional actor who represents France with a unique fame and popularity,” said Brigitte Bardot, a campaigner for animal rights.
On Thursday the row spread to Russia where President Vladimir Putin addressed the actor’s move abroad during his marathon annual news conference.
Vladimir Putin told a big live audience: “I’m sure the French authorities did not want to offend Mr. Depardieu. But if he’d like to have a Russian passport, consider it settled.”
Police arrested prominent Russian opposition leaders at a rally against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow
Police arrested prominent Russian opposition leaders at a rally against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Blogger and activist Alexei Navalny said on Twitter he had been detained at the rally in Lubyanka Square, which was banned by the authorities.
Fellow opposition leaders Ilya Yashin, Ksenia Sobchak and Left Front head Sergei Udaltsov were also arrested.
Police eventually broke up the rally, one of several nationwide that marked a year of protests against Vladimir Putin.
Alexei Navalny later tweeted that he and the other opposition leaders had been released without charge.
In all, 40 people were arrested, police said.
Reports said police cleared the square by moving protesters towards a nearby metro station.
Alexei Navalny, who has been one of the most vocal anti-Putin campaigners, tweeted: “This is the traditional and not very original tweet from the police detention van.
“It’s raving mad. They snatched me out from the crowd.”
There was a large police presence for the rally, which took place in freezing temperatures outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which is the main successor agency of the Soviet KGB.
Police arrested Ilya Yashin, a leading figure in the Solidarity movement and TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak as they made their way to the rally.
Ilya Yashin confirmed their arrest on Twitter, with a heavy dose of irony.
“Came with Ksenia Sobchak for a stroll on the Lubyanka Square. The police decided we were too cold and put us into a detention van,” he wrote.
Reuters reported that Sergei Udaltsov raised a fist in the air as police grabbed him under the arms and hauled him away into a waiting van.
The protesters had gone to place flowers on a small monument in the square to victims of Soviet repression.
They laid flowers not only to honor victims of the past but as a warning that repression is returning, he says.
Opposition “Freedom March” rallies also took place in other Russian cities on Saturday, Interfax news agency reported.
In St Petersburg, more than 25 people were arrested in a protest that had been allowed by city officials, Interfax said.
Other large rallies were reported in Tomsk and Yekaterinburg.
Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin used his annual state-of-the nation address to suggest that some opposition politicians were being paid by outside, foreign interests.
Legal action against opposition figures has increased markedly since Vladimir Putin was re-elected to a third term in March.
On Friday, Alexei Navalny was charged with fraud and money laundering – the second criminal case against him.
A tough new law has passed on public order offences and tight curbs have been placed on non-governmental organizations.
Last winter saw the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union, with protesters accusing Vladimir Putin’s allies of rigging the parliamentary elections in 2011.
President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Russian armed forces chief, General Nikolai Makarov, just three days after the defence minister was sacked over a corruption scandal.
General Valery Gerasimov replaces General Nikolai Makarov as the new armed forces chief of general staff.
Gen. Valery Gerasimov commanded Russian forces during the conflict in Chechnya.
Russian authorities are investigating the sale of defence ministry assets at prices below market value.
On Tuesday President Vladimir Putin dismissed defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov, replacing him with a former emergencies minister and loyal ally, Sergei Shoigu.
General Nikolai Makarov, Russian armed forces chief, dismissed by Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov after his ministry was caught up in a corruption scandal.
Anatoly Serdyukov has been replaced with a former emergencies minister and loyal ally to Vladimir Putin, Sergei Shoigu.
Russia’s top investigative agency is investigating the sale of ministry assets at prices below market value.
Vladimir Putin said he had removed Anatoly Serdyukov to create “conditions for an objective investigation”.
Last month, Russian investigators raided the offices of a state-controlled military contractor and began investigating the company on suspicion that it had sold assets to commercial firms at a loss of nearly 3 billion roubles ($100 million).
Oboronservice’s activities include servicing military aircraft and arms and constructing military facilities.
President Vladimir Putin has dismissed Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov after his ministry was caught up in a corruption scandal.
Anatoly Serdyukov was a furniture store executive and head of the Russian tax service before being appointed defense minister in 2007.
In the six years that Anatoly Serdyukov had been minister he had tried to reform Russia’s outdated armed forces by cutting costs and personnel and by boosting efficiency.
But he had made enemies along the way, and fell out with his own father-in-law, the former deputy prime minister Viktor Zubkov.
Anatoly Serdyukov may now face questioning as part of the fraud investigation.
The adjourned appeal hearing for three activists from the Russian punk band Pussy Riot has started in Moscow.
In August, the trio were jailed for two years for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow’s main cathedral, Christ the Saviour.
The appeal was adjourned last week because one of the defendants said she wanted time to replace her lawyer.
Yekaterina Samutsevich told the judge she had a difference of opinion with her original counsel.
The 30-year-old and fellow band members Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in August.
Their imprisonment sparked condemnation in many parts of the world.
The band performed an obscenity-laced song in front of the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on 21 February.
The adjourned appeal hearing for three activists from the Russian punk band Pussy Riot has started in Moscow
The “punk prayer” – which implored the Virgin Mary to “throw out” President Vladimir Putin and sought, the band said, to highlight the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for the president – enraged the Church.
But while the Church hierarchy said the women’s action “cannot be left unpunished”, it added that any penitence shown should be taken into consideration.
Those comments followed a suggestion from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that a suspended sentence would have been sufficient punishment.
But the women’s lawyers have said their clients would not repent if it meant admitting guilt.
They have said they doubt the appeal will be successful, with analysts suggesting that while the band members’ sentences might be reduced, they were unlikely to be overturned.
As President Vladimir Putin turns 60 years old, it appears he is still a hit with the ladies as a new survey reveals one in five Russian women would like to marry him.
The active President, who is often pictured horse riding topless, hand-gliding and driving Formula One race cars, turns 60 tomorrow.
But that doesn’t seem to have had any impact on his charm – with 6% of Russian women saying they “definitely would” marry Vladimir Putin while a further 14% said they probably would.
Just 43% said they “definitely would not” want to walk down the aisle the President, who has ruled the country for 12 years, in the survey by the independent polling station Levada.
But while President Vladimir Putin may still appeal to a high percentage of the female population, it appears that he isn’t as popular with the remaining electorate.
Vladimir Putin has been facing growing pressure as protests continue against Russia’s rigid political system and repressive Kremlin laws that have provoked wide-spread discontent.
Utilities fees and other municipal payments rose during the summer and look set to continue to rise throughout the winter.
Analysts warn that the government would quickly run out of cash to pay wages and pensions if Russia’s energy revenues dry up. Even with the current relatively high oil prices, the Kremlin has been struggling to raise funds for a planned pension reform.
Vladimir Putin has pledged repeatedly to ease Russia’s dependence on energy exports, encourage high-tech industries, create incentives for small and medium business and improve the investment climate.
But oil and gas revenues still account for the bulk of the government budget, while red tape, rampant corruption and courts bowing to official orders have spooked investors and stymied economic development.
Stanislav Belkovsky, a political consultant with past ties to the Kremlin, said: “Putin hasn’t moved a finger to change the economic model established during his 12-year rule, and he can’t be realistically expected to make any changes now.”
During the latest election campaign in March, Vladimir Putin made generous pledges to raise wages and pensions, as well as boost social programs and the military budget.
But even Cabinet officials have acknowledged that his promises can’t be fulfilled without destabilizing the economy – meaning he could face trouble whichever way he turns.
After his inauguration, Vladimir Putin cracked down on his foes with a slew of draconian laws that hiked fines 150-fold for taking part in unauthorized protests, decriminalized slander and required non-government organizations that receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents.
Vladimir Putin has suffered a gradual decline in popularity but he still enjoys majority support largely thanks to the absence of a strong alternative after years of Kremlin efforts to sideline the opposition.
But for now he seems safe in his position and his adoring supporters will come out in their masses to celebrate his birthday tomorrow in cities from Siberia to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, where the ruling party’s loyal Young Guard will unfurl a banner on a bridge which they say symbolizes Vladimir Putin’s role by uniting Asia and Europe.
Opponents will make their feelings known much closer to home, protesting near Moscow’s Red Square under the banner: “We’re sending the old man into retirement.”
The organizers plan to send their own symbolic message by asking protesters to bring gifts suitable for a pensioner – anything, perhaps, from reading glasses to a pipe.
The man himself will be relaxing with his close family and plans no special celebrations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Just a few months into a third term as president, he may be reaching retirement age, but has no plans to retire.
After 12 years as Russia’s paramount leader, opinion polls show Vladimir Putin enjoys higher ratings than most Western politicians, but they are down from their peak during the oil-fuelled economic boom of his first presidency from 2000 until 2008.
A Russian court in Moscow has begun hearing an appeal by three activists from punk band Pussy Riot.
In August, three members of Pussy Riot were jailed for two years for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow’s main cathedral, Christ the Saviour.
The Russian Orthodox Church said on Sunday that clemency should be possible for the trio as long as they repented what they called their “punk prayer”.
But their lawyers have said that they doubt the appeal will be successful.
The three band members – Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 – were found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in August.
Their imprisonment sparked condemnation in many parts of the world.
The Pussy Riot members were all present in the Moscow court on Monday, in a glass-fronted defendants’ cage.
Yekaterina Samutsevich argued with the judge, complaining that her request for a different defence lawyer had not been met. The hearing was then adjourned temporarily.
Their obscenity-laced performance on 21 February, which implored the Virgin Mary to “throw out” President Vladimir Putin and sought, they said, to highlight the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for the president, enraged the Church.
But, in a statement, the Church said that though the women’s action “cannot be left unpunished”, if they showed penitence and reconsideration of their action their words “shouldn’t be left unnoticed”.
“The Church sincerely wishes for the repentance of those who desecrated a holy place, certainly it would benefit their souls,” senior Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida said.
The Church’s comments follow a suggestion from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last month that a suspended sentence would have been sufficient punishment for the women.
Their lawyers have said that their clients will not repent if it means admitting guilt.
“If they [the Church] mean repentance in the sense of a crime … it definitely won’t happen. Our clients won’t admit guilt. A call for that is pointless,” lawyer Mark Feigin told independent TV channel Dozhd on Sunday.
The father of one of the jailed women said that whether they repent or not, the trio has little hope of their sentences being quashed.
“The sentence is predetermined; their repentance will not affect it in any way,” Stanislav Samutsevich told Reuters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sets off on his latest bid to put right the wrongs of nature by teaching birds to fly.
Hang-gliding over Arctic Siberia this week, Vladimir Putin guided white cranes which seem to have lost the instinct to migrate south to a warmer climate for the winter.
The aim was to set the endangered birds on course for Asia and as with his previous action-man ventures – which included sedating a tiger, tagging a white whale, and offering tender loving care and a tracking collar to a polar bear – the Kremlin announced total success.
Vladimir Putin guided white cranes which seem to have lost the instinct to migrate south to a warmer climate for the winter
As opposition groups and bloggers mercilessly mocked his flying lesson for birds, Putin’s PR machine made clear that after a false start all five juvenile cranes had followed the lead bird – the Russian president dressed in flapping white overalls – and flown for the required distance.
It is hoped the cranes will now fly from Kushavet ornithological research station to Tyumen, further south in Siberia, before taking off for middle Asia and a warm winter.
“For cranes, the parent is a man in a white robe,” explained Yuri Markin, the director of the game reserve.
“They don’t remember a particular person. They remember the white robe and hood, or on the ultralight, a white helmet – and a special beak that is worn on the head.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted he will still be able to work with Mitt Romney if he’s elected U.S. president despite him calling Russia the “number one geopolitical foe”.
Vladimir Putin made the remark about Mitt Romney during yesterday interview on the Kremlin-funded Russia Today TV channel.
The president said: “We’ll work with whichever president is elected by the American people. But our effort will be only as efficient as our partners will want it to be.”
Vladimir Putin expressed concern about how a Romney presidency would affect the two countries’ long-running dispute over U.S.-led NATO plans to place elements of a missile-defense system in Europe. Russia contends the system could undermine its own defenses.
Vladimir Putin expressed concern about how a Romney presidency would affect their countries long-running dispute over NATO plans
He added that if Mitt Romney is elected “the missile defense system will definitely be directed against Russia”.
The wide-ranging interview showed Vladimir Putin’s acerbic and combative side, particularly on the issue of the two-year prison sentence imposed last month on three members of the provocateur band Pussy Riot for their “punk prayer” prank in Moscow’s main cathedral entreating the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin.
Their conviction brought widespread criticism of Russia for stifling opposition and free speech.
Vladimir Putin briefly sparred with the English-speaking interviewer over how the band’s name could be translated into Russian, declaring: “I think you wouldn’t do it because it sounds too obscene, even in English.”
He also vigorously defended Russia’s stance on the escalating civil war in Syria.
Russia has come under strong criticism in the West for blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which is fighting an increasingly vigorous armed opposition.
Activists now put the death toll from the uprising that began in March 2011 at between 23,000 and 26,000.
Russia has said its policy is not aimed at supporting Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin in the interview gave strong indication that Moscow may have written off the Syrian leader.
“We realize that this country needs a change,” he said.
“But this doesn’t mean that change should come with bloodshed.”
Russian punk group Pussy Riot plans to continue their anti-Putin protests despite the trial of three colleagues on hooliganism charges.
Seven of the balaclava-clad women spoke out about their protest campaign during an interview with BBC, using only their nicknames.
A band member called Mother said “of course” when asked if Pussy Riot would carry on protesting as before.
“We’ll try to follow our principles, of freedom of speech… we will do it to support our sisters in prison.”
Russian punk group Pussy Riot plans to continue their anti-Putin protests despite the trial of three colleagues on hooliganism charges
Some of the interviewees took part in the protest on 21 February which led to three being arrested and put on trial.
The verdict is expected on Friday. Russian prosecutors have asked for three years in prison for the women.
Pussy Riot played a song attacking Russian President Vladimir Putin at the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral.
The band sided with protesters who staged huge marches against Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party after December parliamentary elections marred by many alleged abuses.
In the interview, another band member, Terminator, said: “Nobody can mute us, nobody can forbid us to do what we want… We want Russia to be a better place… We won’t stop, we would do it again.”
Terminator continued: “I hope somebody in the government realizes now they’re doing something very awful, very bad and have to stop it.”
She said the church protest was “not an act of hooliganism, definitely not an anti-religious act” but a “political performance” against President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacts awkwardly as a priest bows to kiss his hand during a visit to country’s northern Valaam Island.
Vladimir Putin visited a 14th century monastery on Valaam Island, but appears ruffled when a Russian Orthodox priest tries to kiss his hand.
The peculiar incident came during Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Holy Transfiguration Valaam Monastery on Valaam Island in the north of the country.
It was going smoothly at first as Vladimir Putin greeted believers outside a cathedral, and then shook hands with several Russian Orthodox priests.
Vladimir Putin reacts awkwardly as a priest bows to kiss his hand during a visit to country's northern Valaam Island
However, footage aired on Russian state television showed how a priest bowed and tried to kiss the leader’s hand before Vladimir Putin sharply withdrew his hand away and made a fist by the side of his head.
Vladimir Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister since 2000 and has projected a tough guy image, has enjoyed the support of Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill who gave him his approval during the head of state’s presidential election campaign this year.
Patriarch Kirill is also a key figure in the controversial Pussy Riot trial.
Mariya Alekhina, one of the three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, on trial for an anti-Putin protest at Moscow’s main cathedral, has been given medical treatment in court, a lawyer says.
Medics were called when the women said they felt unwell on the third day of the trial on Wednesday, the court said.
The defendants say they are being deprived of sleep and are poorly fed, according to a defense lawyer.
They deny hooliganism charges in the case, which has divided Russia.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were taken into custody in February after performing a protest song against President Vladimir Putin at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
The song outraged the Russian Orthodox Church, which accused them of blasphemy. Supporters say the case reflects the state’s growing intolerance of government opponents.
Mariya Alekhina, one of the three members of Pussy Riot, on trial for an anti-Putin protest at Moscow's main cathedral, has been given medical treatment in court
The first prosecution witness called on Wednesday testified that he was not in the cathedral during the performance and had only seen it on video.
Proceedings were interrupted for several hours to allow Mariya Alekhina to be given treatment after a fall in her blood sugar levels, defense lawyer Nikolay Polozov told Russian media. He added that Mariya Alekhina was a vegan and needed a special diet.
Later on Wednesday, there was a further interruption when Mariya Alekhina again repeatedly complained about feeling poorly, according to media reports.
Nikolay Polozov told the Interfax news agency that the defendants have been subjected to a punishing regime since the start of their trial.
“For a third day running, the girls have been woken at 5:00 a.m., held in a 1sq m [11 sq ft] unventilated room, after which they are taken to court,” he said.
“They are not fed, and court sessions last up to 12 hours, during which they are only given 20-30 minutes for a small snack of dry rations. They are then taken back to remand after midnight. They are also denied an evening meal and can only sleep for small number of hours.”
The women are facing the charge of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility and could face up to seven years in prison.
At the start of their trial on Monday, the three pleaded not guilty, but apologized for the offence their performance had caused.
The case has divided Russia, with many feeling the women are being made an example of as part of attempts to clamp down on the opposition.
World leaders meeting at a G20 summit in Mexico have urged Europe to take all necessary measures to overcome the eurozone debt crisis.
They voiced unease over what one top official described as “the single biggest risk for the world economy”.
But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said “the challenges are not only European, they are global”.
Sunday’s victory of a pro-bailout party in the Greek election did not give stock markets the expected boost.
Antonis Samaras, the leader of the New Democracy party that narrowly won the poll, is holding urgent talks to form a coalition.
Antonis Samaras also reiterated that he would seek changes in the terms of a bailout agreement reached with the EU and IMF.
While Europe is clearly the big danger, there are also problems elsewhere in the world’s major advanced and emerging economies, starting with the two largest national economies, the US and China.
The slowdown in India is something else for the G20 to fret about at the Mexican resort of Los Cabos.
World leaders meeting at a G20 summit in Mexico have urged Europe to take all necessary measures to overcome the eurozone debt crisis
A draft of the statement to be released on Tuesday is expected to call for a coordinated global plan for job creation and growth, reports say.
And if growth weakens, the proposed document says, countries without heavy debts should “stand ready to co-ordinate and implement discretionary fiscal actions to support domestic demand”, according to Reuters.
In a separate development, China pledged $43 billion to the IMF’s crisis-fighting fund.
The move comes after a meeting of the Brics group of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The five nations all offered to increase their contributions to the IMF in exchange for greater influence in the organization.
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks on the sidelines of the summit, urging an immediate end to violence in Syria.
In a joint statement following their first meeting since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency, they said they shared a belief that Syrians should determine their own future.
The two countries have been at odds over how to resolve the crisis.
On Monday, many world leaders expressed alarm in Los Cabos at what they saw as a lack of progress in dealing with the eurozone crisis.
World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said: “We are waiting for Europe to tell us what it’s going to do.”
Meanwhile, Jose Angel Gurria, the Mexican head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the crisis was “the single biggest risk for the world economy”.
Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), warned about the danger of contagion from the eurozone crisis.
He said that global volatility and uncertainty was fuelling a trend towards protectionism, which was not only stalling free trade but starting to reverse it.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on eurozone leaders to make structural changes to solve the debt crisis.
But Jose Manuel Barroso mounted a strong defense of the EU’s handling of the crisis so far.
“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to handle the economy,” he told reporters.
He added that he expected G20 leaders to “speak very clearly in favor of the approach the EU is following”.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for rules to allow protectionism for countries facing a financial crisis.
“It is time to stop pretending and come to an honest agreement on the acceptable level of protectionist measures that governments can take to protect jobs in times of global crisis,” he said.
“This is particularly important for Russia as our country will join the WTO this year and we intend to take an active part in the discussions on the future rules for global trade.”
US President Barack Obama had earlier talked about the importance of avoiding protectionism, which is the process of making imports more expensive to protect domestic jobs.
Anti-Putin protesters have begun marching in Russia’s capital Moscow, ahead of a major rally to demand fresh elections and a new president.
The protest, on a national holiday, comes a day after police raided the homes of several prominent activists.
They were all ordered to report for questioning on Tuesday, and so were likely to miss the march.
Last week, President Vladimir Putin signed a new law increasing fines for those who violate protest laws.
Vladimir Putin won a third presidential term in March amid protests over alleged fraud in December’s parliamentary vote.
This is the first big anti-government rally in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin.
There are tens of thousands of protesters, a sea of flags, banners and placards flowing through the centre of Moscow.
Anti-Putin protesters have begun marching in Russia's capital Moscow, ahead of a major rally to demand fresh elections and a new president
The demonstrators have been chanting “Putin is a thief” and “Russia without Putin”.
Vladimir Putin appears to be taking a harder line against the opposition.
Shortly before the rally, independent media websites went down with news agencies reported difficulty reaching that of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel, said its website had come under attack by hackers.
“We’re trying to get back on track. The attack started at 11:00,” he told the Interfax news agency.
Those targeted by police on Monday included leading opposition activists Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov and his wife Anastasia.
They all arrived for questioning at the headquarters of the Russian investigative committee on Tuesday morning.
It is a rather unsubtle attempt by the authorities to stop them from participating in the protest, our correspondent says.
Police also searched the home of Ksenia Sobchak – a well-known TV presenter and daughter of Vladimir Putin’s late mentor and St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak – who has joined the protest movement.
“People barged in at 8:00 a.m., gave me no chance to get dressed, robbed the apartment, humiliated me,” Anatoly Sobchak said in a Twitter post.
“I never thought we would return to such repression in this country.”
Sergei Udaltsov told reporters that police had “rifled through everything, every wardrobe, in the toilet, in the refrigerator. They searched under the beds”.
Alexei Navalny said police seized computer disks containing photos of his children, along with clothes including a sweatshirt bearing an opposition slogan.
Federal investigators have summoned the opposition leaders to appear for questioning just one hour before the scheduled start of the rally.
Following the raids, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was “deeply concerned by the apparent harassment of Russian political opposition figures on the eve of the planned demonstrations on June 12”.
“Taken together, these measures raise serious questions about the arbitrary use of law enforcement to stifle free speech and free assembly,” she said.
The searches also triggered a wave of protest from Russian bloggers, who compared the actions to those of Stalin’s secret police in the 1930s.
The raids may draw new supporters to the anti-Putin cause.
In a separate development in Warsaw, thousands of Russian fans are due to mark their national holiday with a march through the city ahead of their Euro 2012 match against co-host Poland.
It will be heavily policed in what the authorities say is the “greatest ever” security challenge.
President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda.
The Russian president said ahead of the trip that he wanted to further boost booming bilateral trade, which reached $84 billion last year.
The Syrian crisis is also expected to be discussed during the talks.
Russia and China have resisted Western pressure to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power amid ongoing unrest.
China’s envoy to the UN, Li Baodong, has described Syria as one of the most pressing issues on the agenda of the Security Council.
Beijing currently holds the council’s rotating presidency, and Li Baodong urged all parties to immediately implement the peace plan of UN envoy Kofi Annan.
President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda
Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army said on Monday it was no longer committed to the nominal ceasefire.
Spokesman Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters news agency the FSA had begun attacking soldiers to “defend our people”.
Vladimir Putin will hold extensive talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao later on Tuesday.
The Russian leader is taking to Beijing six cabinet ministers, the head of gas giant Gazprom and other energy companies.
Some 17 major business and trade deals between Russia and China are expected to be signed in Beijing, Vladimir Putin’s aides say.
But it remains unclear whether this will include a long-awaited gas agreement that would allow Moscow to supply some 70 billion cubic metres of gas to its neighbor.
Latest reports suggest that pricing disagreements remain between Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer, and China, the largest consumer of energy.
On the eve of the visit, Vladimir Putin told China’s state media that he wanted to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion in 2015 and $200 billion by 2020.
He said the target could be achieved “ahead of schedule”.
On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin will meet Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is tipped to be the next premier, and Xi Jinping, who is expected to become next president after a stage-managed leadership change later this year.
While in China, Vladimir Putin will also attend a regional security summit on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to be pressed by EU officials to take a stronger line on the crisis in Syria during a summit in St Petersburg.
EU member states want Russia to put pressure on its ally to withdraw heavy weapons from cities and comply fully with UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
Russia and China are also resisting US and European calls to condemn President Bashar al-Assad and seek his removal.
On Sunday, Bashar al-Assad denied his forces had any role in the Houla massacre.
In a televised address, President Bashar al-Assad told parliament the killing of more than 108 people in their homes, including 49 children, was an “ugly crime” that even “monsters” would not carry out.
Witnesses have blamed pro-government militiamen for the massacre, which has triggered international condemnation and led to several countries expelling Syrian diplomats in protest.
Bashar al-Assad said the only way to resolve the crisis was through political dialogue, and that “foreign meddling” was to blame for Syria’s divisions.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those attending Monday’s summit.
On Sunday, Vladimir Putin invited the EU leaders for dinner ahead of the talks at a lavish estate on the outskirts of the city.
Vladimir Putin will hold talks with Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy
European diplomats regard the meeting as a chance to renew ties with Vladimir Putin since his return to the presidency earlier this month.
The leaders are also expected to discuss trade and Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. Russia will also be looking to speed up moves towards visa free travel in Europe.
“We need to make sure that Russia is using fully its leverage in convincing the [Assad] regime to implement [the peace plan],” an EU official quoted by the Reuters news agency said.
“The Russian side has certainly not been very helpful in finding solutions in terms of a political way out.”
Moscow insists it is not protecting Bashar al-Assad but says his removal cannot be a precondition for political dialogue.
Baroness Catherine Ashton, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before Sunday’s dinner, said in a statement: “Russia’s role is crucial for the success of Annan’s plan.”
She said the EU wanted to “work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence”.
The statement added that Baroness Catherine Ashton had spoken to Kofi Annan by telephone on Sunday and they had agreed that the crisis was at “a critical point”.
Analysts say pressure is growing on Moscow to concede that the initiative is stalled and to promote a compromise in which President Bashar al-Assad stands down to allow a transition of power.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that she had “made it very clear” to Sergei Lavrov in a telephone conversation that the focus was shifting to a political transition.
“Assad’s departure does not have to be a precondition, but it should be an outcome so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves,” she said during a visit to Stockholm.
Although the summit is not expected to produce any major breakthrough in relations between Russia and the EU, it is still important.
EU leaders will be able to reacquaint themselves with Vladimir Putin and it is also a chance to gauge what kind of relationship Moscow and Brussels are likely to have during his six-year presidency.
President Vladimir Putin has told President Barack Obama that he will not attend the G8 summit in the US later this month.
Vladimir Putin, who was inaugurated as President this week after an absence of four years, told US officials he was busy finalizing his cabinet.
Russian president will send the outgoing president, Dmitry Medvedev, who replaces him as prime minister, instead.
The two presidents will now hold talks at the G20 meeting in Mexico in June.
Earlier this week, Washington criticized the Russian police response to anti-Putin rallies in Moscow.
A State Department spokesman said the US was “disturbed” by the “mistreatment” of peaceful protesters.
Organizers said 20,000 people took part in a protest on Sunday against Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, though police put the figure at 8,000.
President Vladimir Putin has told President Barack Obama that he will not attend the G8 summit in the US later this month
In a statement, the White House said President Vladimir Putin “expressed his regret” to President Barack Obama by phone.
The US and Russian leaders will meet during the G20 summit in Mexico in June.
“The two presidents reiterated their interest in the sustained high-level dialogue that has characterized the reset of relations and the substantial progress of the last three years,” the statement said.
The US is hosting the G8 summit of seven of the world’s most industrialized nations, and Russia, at Camp David on 18-19 May.
It was widely expected that Vladimir Putin would use the event to mark his return to the world stage.
It is not clear whether his decision not to attend is a deliberate snub to the US, following criticism of the Russian election process.
It also highlights growing tensions between the two nations over the US missile defense plans in eastern Europe.