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As a measure to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, Russia is beginning what President Vladimir Putin called a “non-working week”.

The Russian government is urging people to stay at home, though mixed messaging has left many people confused.

According to officials, the new restrictions could be extended beyond April 5, depending on the health situation.

The number of Russians infected with Covid-19 passed 1,000 on March 27, with most cases detected in Moscow.

Based on that figure, the Kremlin spokesman has stressed that there is “de facto no epidemic” here, comparing Russia’s position favorably with the crisis in Europe.

Whilst state TV’s rolling news channel has changed its name to We’re Staying Home – broadcasting from presenters’ living rooms – many people are struggling to adjust after its previous insistence that Covid-19 was a “foreign threat”.

Coronavirus: Russia Postpones Vote on Vladimir Putin Staying in Power

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When President Putin announced a paid week off work for all, there was a rush to book holidays.

The governor of Krasnodar region, which includes the Black Sea resort of Sochi, had to order the closure of all shopping centers, parks and restaurants – and limit flights – after hotel reservations sky-rocketed.

Many Moscow residents have already headed out of town to their dachas, or summer houses.

In the Russian capital, there has been a noticeable increase in people in facemasks on the streets since President Putin’s national address.

Supermarket staff have begun wearing them and there are bottles of hand sanitizer in coffee shops.

Food stores will remain open, as well as other essential services, but from this weekend cafes and restaurants can offer takeaway only.

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Image source Wikimedia

Russia has postponed a vote on constitutional change that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power, because of coronavirus concerns.

President Putin said the public vote – previously due to be held on April 22 – would be delayed until a “later date”.

The proposed changes include scrapping a ban on allowing Vladimir Putin to run for office again.

The changes have already been approved by parliament and Russia’s constitutional court.

They would give Vladimir Putin – who is serving his fourth presidential term and has dominated Russian politics for two decades – the right to serve two more consecutive terms.

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Later on March 25, Russia confirmed the deaths of two people who had been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. According to Ria Novosti, the 88- and 73-year-olds had pre-existing conditions. Russia has a total of 658 cases.

President Putin said: “The absolute priority for us is the health, life and safety of people. Therefore I believe that the vote should be postponed until a later date.”

He also announced that Russians would not work next week “to slow the speed” of the infection.

However, the Russian leader warned that it was impossible to prevent any spread of the virus at all in Russia because of the country’s size.

The Russian economy was also under serious pressure because of the virus, he said.

During their week off, employees would continue to be paid and key services would continue, Vladimir Putin said.

The president also announced extended welfare support, including for families with children and those who had lost jobs.

Russia has already taken measures such as 14-day quarantine for people arriving from abroad, school closures and warning for elderly people in Moscow to self-isolate.

It has also stopped cultural and sporting events and closed gyms, theaters and nightclubs, although cafes and restaurants have been allowed to stay open.

Russia has so far stopped short of imposing the kind of lockdown seen in some European countries.

There have been more than 435,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now the center of the global outbreak.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Russian PM Dmitry Mevedev has announced that his government is resigning, hours after President Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional changes that could prolong his stay in power.

If approved by the public, the proposals would transfer power from the presidency to parliament.

President Putin is due to step down in 2024 when his fourth term of office comes to an end.

However, there is speculation he could seek a new role or hold on to power behind the scenes.

President Putin put forward his plans in his annual state of the nation address to lawmakers. Later, in an unexpected move, PM Dmitry Medvedev announced that the government was resigning to help facilitate the changes.

Vladimir Putin said during a speech to both chambers of parliament that there would be a nationwide vote on changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament.

Constitutional reforms included giving the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, “greater responsibility” for the appointment of the prime minister and the cabinet.

Russia: Vladimir Putin Signs Controversial “Foreign Agent” Media Law

Russia: State Duma passes law requiring internet companies to store citizens’ personal data inside country

Currently, the president appoints the prime minister and government ministers, and the Duma approves the decision.

Presidnet Putin also suggested an increased role for an advisory body called the State Council. The council, which is currently chaired by Vladimir Putin, comprises the heads of Russia’s federal regions. President Putin said it had proved to be “highly effective”.

Other measures include:

  • Limiting the supremacy of international law
  • Amending the rules that limit presidents to two consecutive terms
  • Strengthening laws that prohibit presidential candidates who have held foreign citizenship or foreign residency permits

PM Dmitry Medvedev made his announcement on state TV with President Putin sitting next to him.

He said: “These changes, when they are adopted… will introduce substantial changes not only to an entire range of articles of the constitution, but also to the entire balance of power, the power of the executive, the power of the legislature, the power of judiciary.

“In this context… the government in its current form has resigned.”

Vladimir Putin thanked Dmitry Medvedev for his work but said “not everything” had been accomplished.

He asked the prime minister to become deputy head of the National Security Council, which is chaired by the president.

Vladimir Putin later nominated tax service chief Mikhail Mishustin to replace Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.

Dmitry Medvedev has been prime minister for several years. He previously served as president from 2008-2012, switching roles with Vladimir Putin – a close ally – after the latter served his first two terms as president. Russia’s constitution only allows presidents to serve two consecutive terms.

Even when he was prime minister, Vladimir Putin was widely seen as the power behind then President Medvedev.

Opposition leader and leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he believed that any referendum on the constitutional changes would be “fraudulent crap”. He said Vladimir Putin’s goal was to be “sole leader for life”.

The last time Russia held a referendum was in 1993 when it adopted the constitution under President Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor.

Vladimir Putin became acting president following Boris Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999 and was formally inaugurated a year later. He has held the reins of power – as president or prime minister – ever since.

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Image NBC News

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has thanked President Donald Trump for intelligence that helped foil “acts of terrorism” on Russian soil, a Kremlin statement announces.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump spoke on the phone on December 29, the statement said.

According to the Kremlin, the information came via intelligence services, but it provided no further details.

Russian media is reporting the discovery of a plot to attack St Petersburg over the New Year period.

According to Tass news agency, two Russian nationals have been arrested and plans to attack a mass gathering were seized, according to a spokesperson from the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency.

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President Putin and President Trump have spoken on the phone and in person various times since the latter took office.

Records from the conversations show they have often talked about Syria, as well as nuclear agreements, North Korea and trade.

In December 2017, Vladimir Putin thanked President Trump for another warning from US intelligence agencies, which again apparently prevented a terrorist plot in St Petersburg, according to a White House account.

During that call, the Kremlin said President Putin had promised to reciprocate with information about terrorist threats to the US.

The US and Russian relations plummeted after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from neighboring Ukraine in 2014.

They were also strained when US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Despite this, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have appeared to be on good terms personally – and they have vowed to co-operate on terrorism.

President Trump has indicated he is considering attending the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow next May, after an invitation from President Putin.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The man who opened fire at the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters in Moscow has been identified as a 39-year-old loner and gun enthusiast, Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported.

According to Russian police, Yevgeny Manyurov is from Podolsk, about 25 miles south of Moscow. On December 19, the gunman killed an FSB officer and wounded five others with an automatic weapon, before a sniper shot him dead.

One of the wounded is a civilian.

At the moment of the attack, President Vladimir Putin was at a gala evening honoring the FSB at the Kremlin, a couple of miles away.

The shooting happened at the entrance of the Lubyanka, the FSB headquarters which used to house the Soviet KGB.

Russia: Vladimir Putin Signs Controversial “Foreign Agent” Media Law

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On December 19, police searched Yevgeny Manyurov’s flat, which he had shared with his mother, and they detained her for questioning.

Yevgeny Manyurov had worked as a security guard but lost his job recently and never had any visits from friends, Russian media quote his mother as saying. Police found five guns at the flat – legally registered and kept in a safe – along with a large quantity of ammunition.

He once trained as a lawyer and did some legal consulting work, reports say.

Yevgeny Manyurov practiced shooting regularly at a gun club, which was a passion for him, his mother is quoted as saying.

She also said she had heard him speaking English on the phone with some “Arabs”, who had started calling him since he had lost his security job.

According to Kommersant newspaper, when he opened fire, Yevgeny Manyurov “was shouting slogans typical of Islamic State”. The publication says the information came from a security source, who quoted witnesses questioned by police.

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Image source Wikimedia

Independent journalists and bloggers in Russia could be labeled as “foreign agents” after a controversial law has been amended on December 2.

The “foreign agent” label already applies to certain media organizations and NGOs which engage in politics and receive funding from abroad.

The EU, Amnesty International and the OSCE international security body condemned the amended law.

“Foreign agent” was a Soviet-era term of abuse for political dissidents.

President Vladimir Putin signed the amended “foreign agent” media law.

Russia says the original media bill, introduced in 2017, was its response to a US requirement for Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT to register as a foreign agent in the US.

Russia: State Duma passes law requiring internet companies to store citizens’ personal data inside country

Mikhail Gorbachev denounces Russia new laws as attack on citizens’ rights

The first “foreign agent” law, introduced in 2012, targeted non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including charities and civil society groups, which get foreign funding and engage in political activity in Russia.

In 2015 Russia’s justice ministry listed Memorial – a distinguished chronicler of human rights abuses – as a “foreign agent”.

The anti-corruption organization of anti-Putin campaigner Alexei Navalny has also been declared a “foreign agent”.

Groups, and now individuals, labeled as “foreign agents” have to put that label on their publications and submit detailed paperwork to the authorities, or face fines for not doing so.

The media law was steered through parliament’s lower house – the Duma – by lawmakers Leonid Levin and Pyotr Tolstoy.

Leonid Levin explained that for an individual to be labeled a “foreign agent” two criteria must be valid: they must be producing or spreading material from a “foreign agent” media source, and they must be getting foreign funding.

He said that re-tweeting “foreign agent” news would only make an individual a “foreign agent” too if he or she was also receiving foreign funding.

There has been a chorus of disapproval from human rights groups for the new law.

OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Désir said the law “represents a disproportionate interference in the freedom of expression and media freedom”.

Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS), said the legislation “imposes an additional administrative and financial burden, as well as stigmatizes the media or NGO concerned, thus restricting the exercise of fundamental freedoms”.

She said: “Taking into account the already limited space for free media in the country, a further extension of the scope of the legislation is yet another worrying step against free and independent media and access to information, as well as a further attempt to silence independent voices in Russia.”

According to Amnesty International the new law “will have a detrimental impact on the already restrictive environment for independent journalism in Russia, and must be dropped”.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired two high-ranking Moscow police officials, days after anti-corruption journalist Ivan Golunov was freed amid an outcry over a fabricated drugs case.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev had called for the dismissal of western Moscow police chief Maj. Gen. Andrei Puchkov and drug control chief Maj. Gen. Yury Devyatkin.

Ivan Golunov, 36, was released after lawyers said drugs had been planted on him.

It also emerged that police photos of a drugs lab were not taken in his flat.

The journalist, who had been working for the Latvia-based independent news website Meduza, alleged he had been beaten while in custody.

Ivan Golunov was later released under house arrest before being freed on June 11, a day after three respected newspapers published the same front-page headline: “I/We are Golunov.”

Kazbek Gekkiyev, Russian TV journalist, shot dead in North Caucasus

Hundreds of people were arrested during a pro-Golunov rally in central Moscow on June 12, many of them bearing the same slogan as the newspapers.

The interior minister announced the suspension of officers involved in the case on June 11, saying that the reporter’s guilt “had not been proven”.

President Vladimir Putin has avoided commenting on the case, although his spokesman said earlier in the week that the Kremlin had been keeping a close eye on it.

He will appear before the Russian public in the annual “Direct Line” phone-in on June 20, when Russians are given the chance to speak to the president.

Russian commentators have suggested the Kremlin is keen for the story to disappear before the event.

Ivan Golunov was stopped last week while on his way to meet another journalist in Moscow. Police officers said they found the drug mephedrone in his bag, and more drugs and weighing scales in a search of his home.

The journalist’s lawyers and press freedom activists said the drugs had been planted in order to silence the investigative journalist.

Ivan Golunov’s supporters immediately claimed that he was innocent and a victim of false drugs charges used against opposition figures and human rights activists by the Russian state.

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President Donald Trump has decided to cancel a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the naval clash between Ukraine and Russia in Kerch Strait.

On November 25, Russian border guards fired on three Ukrainian ships and seized their crews off the Crimean Peninsula.

President Trump said he would not meet President Putin at a G20 summit in the coming days, “based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned”.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed the crisis “entirely” on Russia.

Angela Merkel said she would raise the issue with Vladimir Putin at the G20 meeting, which is due to be held in Argentina between November 30 and December 1.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has urged NATO to send ships to the area. He has implemented martial law across Ukraine’s border regions for 30 days in response to the crisis.

Image NBC News

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On November 29, President Poroshenko announced that Russians living in Ukraine would soon face restrictions on bank withdrawals, changing foreign currency and travelling abroad.

The incident happened on November 25, when two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug were sailing from Odessa to the port of Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov – which is shared between Russia and Ukraine.

The ships were stopped from entering the Kerch Strait and confronted by FSB border guards. After a lengthy standoff, during which the Ukrainian tug was rammed, the vessels began turning back towards Odessa, the Ukrainian government says.

The Russians opened fire, wounding at least three sailors, and seized the Ukrainian flotilla.

The Kerch Strait separates Russia from Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula that was annexed by Russia in 2014.

However, Ukraine says Russia is deliberately blockading Mariupol and another Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov, Berdyansk.

The 24 captured Ukrainian sailors have now been given two months in pre-trial detention by a court in Crimea.

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Commemorations took place around the world on November 11 to mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended WWI.

President Donald Trump and Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, were among those who attended a service beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

About 70 world leaders gathered in Paris on November 11 for remembrance events.

French President Emmanuel Macron led the main event of the centenary – a somber commemoration at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial to France’s fallen under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Image source kremlin.ru

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President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a peace conference – the Paris Peace Forum – with leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On November 10, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel visited the town of Compiègne in northern France. They signed a book of remembrance in a railway carriage identical to the one in which the 1918 Armistice was sealed.

President Donald Trump caused controversy by canceling a trip to a cemetery for the war dead because of bad weather.

A group of around 50 activist organizations held a demonstration in Paris in protest against President Trump’s visit.

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President Donald Trump has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit the US, in a move that drew startled laughter from US intelligence chief Dan Coats.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said when he was told about the invitation during a live interview: “That’s gonna be special!”

President Trump’s presidency has been clouded by allegations that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 US presidential election in his favor. However, the Kremlin denies the allegations.

At the Helsinki summit, President Putin offered access to 12 Russians indicted in absentia by the US authorities over the alleged interference, on condition the Russian authorities could question 12 Americans over a different case. President Trump first praised the suggestion as “incredible” but later rejected it.

Since his return from Finland, President Trump or the White House have had to correct or clarify other comments regarding Russia, creating confusion and prompting the Democrats to demand details of his private talks with President Putin.

Vladimir Putin, in power in Russia since 2000, last visited the US in 2015, when he met President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Image NBC News

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On July 19, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that discussions about a visit by Vladimir Putin to Washington DC this autumn were already under way.

Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said Russia had always been open to the idea of a visit but it was “up to the Kremlin to decide how many summits are needed, and when”.

The announcement appeared to come as a surprise to US intelligence chief Dan Coats, who was told about it during a live interview at the Aspen Security Forum in the state of Colorado.

Dan Coats added that he did not yet know what President Trump and President Putin had discussed during their meeting, at which only the pair and their interpreters were present.

At the post-summit news conference in Helsinki, President Putin was asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in the US for hacking Democratic Party computers.

No extradition treaty exists between the US and Russia, but Vladimir Putin said he would meet the US government “halfway”.

President Putin said that US investigators could question the 12 suspects inside Russia if, in turn, Russian investigators were allowed to question US citizens with regard to a case against financier Bill Browder.

Bill Browder was instrumental in the US imposing sanctions in 2012 on top Russian officials accused of corruption in the Magnitsky affair.

One of the Americans on Russia’s list is a former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.

The idea of allowing Russia to quiz US citizens sparked outrage and the Senate voted 98-0 against it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “not going to happen”.

Michael McFaul tweeted his gratitude to the Senate: “98-0. Bipartisanship is not dead yet in the US Senate. Thank you all for your support.”

At the news conference in Helsinki, President Trump said: “He [Vladimir Putin] offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigations with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Now, however, President Trump says he “disagrees” with President Putin’s proposal.

He has also clarified remarks at the news conference in which he said he saw no reason for Russia to have meddled in the 2016 US election – despite US intelligence concluding just that.

Speaking to CBS News on July 18, President Trump said he held Vladimir Putin personally responsible for interfering in the election, and that he was “very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling”.

Vladimir Putin has also described the summit as “successful” but warned “there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually sacrifice Russian-US relations”.

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President Donald Trump has been widely criticized in the US after defending Russia over claims of interference in the 2016 elections.

At a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, President Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies, saying Russia had no reason to meddle.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, said President Trump must see that “Russia is not our ally”.

The president’s own intelligence chief publicly broke with him.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a statement that Russia is responsible for “ongoing, pervasive attempts” to undermine US democracy.

Vladimir Putin denied the claim.

On July 16, the two leaders held nearly two hours of one-on-one talks without their advisers in Helsinki.

Image NBC News

Maria Butina: Russian Charged with Spying in US

Trump-Putin Summit: Donald Trump Defends Russia over Claims of Election Interference

At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to allegations of meddling in the election.

He replied: “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

President Trump also blamed poor relations with Russia on past US administrations rather than Russian actions.

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorized campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

President Trump later backtracked, tweeting that he had “great confidence in my intelligence people”.

He tweeted: “As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated a highly controversial bridge between the mainland Russia and annexed Crimea.
The $3.7 billion bridge has been a flagship political project for Russia as it seeks to cement its hold on to the territory it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The Kerch Strait bridge was opened in a typically hands-on fashion by the Russian leader. By driving a truck.

Image source kremlin.ru

Vladimir Putin admits Crimea annexation plot before referendum

The 12 mile (19km)-bridge, now the longest in Europe, is the only direct road link with Russia. It links Russia’s Krasnodar region with Crimean peninsula. Its opening marks the physical “reunification” of Crimea with Russia mainland.
Once fully completed, the road and rail link will be able to handle 40,000 cars a day and to move 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year, according to RIA Novosti.
Russian special forces seized Crimea in a lightning operation in February 2014. The West responded with crippling economic sanctions.

Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been held at a Moscow rally two days before Vladimir Putin’s inauguration.

Alexei Navalny was carried away struggling through the crowd of demonstrators, who had gathered to protest at President Putin’s forthcoming fourth term in office.

Moscow and St Petersburg rallies were not approved by the authorities.

At least 1,000 arrests were reportedly made at rallies across Russia.

On May 6, Alexei Navalny was released from police custody after being charged with organizing a rally and resisting the police.

Protesters on Moscow’s Pushkin Square shouted slogans such as “Down with the tsar!” – “tsar” was the historical title of Russia’s pre-revolutionary emperors – and “Russia without Putin!”. In St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, they shouted “Jail the tsar!”.

Activists have been using a Russian hash tag on Twitter which translates as “He’s not our tsar”.

Image source Wikimedia

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Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin National Liberation Movement held a rival rally at the same location in Moscow.

Alexei Navalny, a long-time anti-corruption campaigner is not an elected politician but has led protests against the rule of Vladimir Putin and his allies since the parliamentary election of 2011.

The activist was barred from running for president against Vladimir Putin this year because of a conviction for embezzlement, which he denies, saying the case against him was politically motivated.

Alexei Navalny has been arrested at protests on numerous occasions before, and is typically held for a few weeks before being released.

Reports say he was forced to stay at a secret location on May 4 in order to make it to the Moscow rally at all.

When the Moscow city authorities warned people of possible “negative consequences” of taking part in unsanctioned rallies on May 5, Alexei Navalny tweeted back: “And I would like to warn everyone of the negative consequences of non-participation in the rallies.”

He added: “If you stay at home, Putin’s gang will tear the country apart and deprive you personally of a future.”

Vladimir Putin was re-elected president with more than 76% of the vote, his best ever election performance.

President Donald Trump has said that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma on April 7.

The president tweeted: “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and <<smart>>!”

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

The Syrian government denies mounting a chemical attack on Douma.

In one his tweets on April 11, President Trump called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “gas killing animal”.

In another, President Trump painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

He tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

Meanwhile, the US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

Syrian opposition activists and rescuers say government aircraft dropped bombs filled with toxic chemicals on Douma.

According to the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), which operates in rebel-held areas, and local aid workers, more than 500 people had been treated for symptoms “indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”.

On April 11, the UN’s World Health Organization demanded access to verify reports from its partners, which include SAMS, that 70 people had died – including 43 who showed “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”.

Meanwhile, a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to deploy to Syria “shortly” to determine whether banned weapons were used.

The town of Douma, the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus, was under renewed assault from Syrian and Russian forces last week.

Image source Flickr

Rebels have now been evacuating Douma under an agreement involving the Russian military.

Russia said it would deploy military police to Douma on April 12 and that the situation there had stabilized.

Several senior Russian figures have warned of a Russian response to a US attack, with Alexander Zasypkin, Moscow’s ambassador to Lebanon, repeating on April 11 a warning by the head of the military that missiles would be shot down and their launch sites targeted if they threatened the lives of Russian personnel.

Also on April 11, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asked whether the aim of Western strikes might be “to quickly remove the traces of the provocation… [so] international inspectors will have nothing to look for in terms of evidence”.

Addressing new ambassadors in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said the world was becoming more chaotic. He said he hoped common sense would prevail and that the situation would stabilize.

President Putin said Russia would “keep all its international obligations in full”.

On April 10, President Trump cancelled his first official trip to Latin America so he could focus on Syria.

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On April 11, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US was still assessing the chemical attack and that the US military stood ready “to provide military options if they are appropriate as the president determines”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said any strikes would “not target allies of the [Syrian] regime or attack anyone, but rather attack the regime’s chemical capabilities”.

However, The Times newspaper reports that the UK’s PM Theresa May has urged President Trump to provide more evidence of the suspected chemical attack.

A US Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean Sea.

On April 10, the UN Security Council failed to approve moves to set up an inquiry into the alleged attack on Douma.

As permanent members of the council, Russia and the US vetoed each other’s proposals to set up independent investigations.

The US-drafted resolution would have allowed investigators to apportion blame for the suspected attack, while Russia’s version would have left that to the Security Council.

The OPCW’s fact-finding mission will not seek to establish who was responsible for the attack.

President Donald Trump has called Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his electoral victory two days ago.

Donald Trump said they would meet in the “not too distant future” to discuss limiting a growing arms race, Ukraine and Syria.

Vladimir Putin was re-elected by a landslide, with 76.68% of the vote, for a fourth six-year term.

There was no strong challenger, with the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, barred from the race.

According to European observers, the poll was conducted efficiently, but there was a lack of genuine choice.

President Trump said the arms race between the US and Russia was “getting out of control… but we will never allow anybody to have anything close to what we have”.

Image NBC News

Russia Elections 2018: Vladimir Putin Seeks Fourth Term in Office

UK Expels 23 Russian Diplomats over Chemical Attack on Sergei Skripal

According to the Washington Post, citing officials it said were familiar with the matter, the call was made despite warnings from the president’s security advisers, who provided a briefing which included a section that read “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”.

During the call, President Trump did not mention the issue that has sparked growing Western tensions with Russia – the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK.

The UK government blamed the nerve agent attack on Moscow, which denies any involvement.

The Kremlin said the conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was “constructive and business-like”, adding that Russia hoped to “overcome problems” that had arisen between the two nations.

Senator John McCain criticized President Trump over the call, saying in a statement: “An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.”

On March 20, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker also wrote a letter of congratulations to Vladimir Putin, pledging to “always be a partner” in improving security co-operation with the Kremlin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the first Western leaders to “warmly congratulate” the Russian leader on March 19 – a day after his re-election – stressing the need to continue dialogue “to address important bilateral and international challenges and find viable solutions”.

French President Emmanuel Macron wished Vladimir Putin success in “modernizing Russia”, but urged Moscow to shed light on the “unacceptable” attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in the UK.

Russians go to polls in fresh presidential election, in which incumbent President Vladimir Putin is seeking a fourth term in office.

Voting began in the Russian far-east at 20:00 GMT on March 17, and opened in Moscow nine hours later.

The first results will arrive in the evening. Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s dominant leader since 1999, either as president or prime minister.

Image source Wikimedia

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The incumbent president is hoping for another six-year term and faces seven other candidates.

Vladimir Putin’s rivals include a millionaire communist, Pavel Grudinin, a former reality TV host, Ksenia Sobchak and veteran nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Alexei Navalny, the main opposition leader, has been prohibited from standing, because of a fraud conviction that he said was politically motivated.

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Russia suggests that an expected US report that could sanction Kremlin-linked oligarchs is an attempt to influence its March presidential election.

The treasury department report is expected to detail the closeness of senior Russian political figures and oligarchs to President Vladimir Putin, who is standing for re-election.

US officials accuse Russia of meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.

President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the forthcoming report would be analyzed.

During 2017, President Donald Trump enacted new sanctions on Russia but he accused Congress of overreaching itself and preventing him from easing penalties on Russia in the future.

President Trump has repeatedly rejected any allegations that his campaign staff colluded with Russia to help him defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at the November 2016 presidential election.

The allegations voiced by the US intelligence community are currently being investigated by Congress and Robert Mueller.

Dmitry Peskov said the US report was a “direct and obvious attempt to influence the elections” on March 18.

However, the spokesman added that he was sure the list would not affect the vote.

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The Kremlin has pledged to help limit further damage to Russian oligarchs and businesses that could be on the list.

In 2018, President Vladimir Putin reportedly met top businessmen behind closed doors to discuss the issue.

Vladimir Putin is seen as the clear favorite to win the March elections.

His main opposition rival, Alexei Navalny, has been barred from standing in the race.

Alexei Navalny was briefly detained during a protest rally on January 28.

The US treasury department has to finalize the document on January 29, after which it is expected to hand the report over to Congress.

It is not known whether the names of those on the list will be publicly revealed or kept secret or indeed how many people and entities are on the list.

Being on the list does not automatically trigger sanctions but such penalties could be activated any time later by the United States.

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An explosion at a store in Sankt Petersburg, Russia, has injured at least ten people.

According to officials, one person was said to be in serious condition after the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED).

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the explosion, at the Perekrestok supermarket chain on December 27, as a terrorist act.

No group has said it carried out the attack, which officials say produced a blast equivalent to 200g (7oz) of TNT.

Russia’s investigative committee said the home-made device was packed with lethal components.

Image source Wikipedia

St Petersburg Subway Explosion Kills 11

The explosion took place in an area of the supermarket that housed lockers for storing bags.

The property was quickly evacuated and there were no reports of a fire, but images circulating on social media in Russia showed extensive damage in an area of the store close to the tills.

President Putin commented on the explosion at a military awards ceremony on December 28. Officials had earlier suggested the attack was being treated as attempted murder.

Earlier this month, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump spoke by phone after information provided by the CIA helped Russian security services foil an attack on St Petersburg’s Kazan cathedral.

At the time, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that a group had been planning attacks at a number of sites. Several people were reportedly detained.

In April, an explosion on the St Petersburg subway system killed at least 13 people and injured more than 50 others.

President Donald Trump said President Vladimir Putin feels insulted by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

The two leaders briefly met at the APEC summit in Vietnam.

“He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election,” Donald Trump said.

President Trump, who defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, said the allegations were a “Democratic hit job”.

The US intelligence community concluded earlier that Russia had indeed tried to sway the poll in favor of Donald Trump.

The DoJ has appointed special investigator Robert Mueller to examine any possible collusion involving Donald Trump’s team, and legal action has already been taken against several former aides.

Image NBC News

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President Trump has refused to acknowledge a reported assessment by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

The contents of the emails, passed to WikiLeaks and posted online, were embarrassing to the Democrats and shook up the presidential campaign, which ended in defeat for Hillary Clinton.

In addition to Robert Mueller’s inquiry, congressional committees have been set up to carry out their own investigations.

Relations between the US and Russia have been strained for years, with the Kremlin long accusing Washington of seeking to sway elections in Russia and other ex-Soviet states including Ukraine and Georgia.

While Russian hackers are widely suspected of involvement, there has been no conclusive link to the Kremlin.

Denying that Russia had tried to interfere last year by fostering contacts with Donald Trump’s campaign, Vladimir Putin told reporters in Vietnam: “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of a continuing domestic political struggle.”

President Trump said he believed President Putin had been “very insulted by” the allegations and that was “not a good thing” for America.

“He [Vladimir Putin] said he didn’t meddle,” the president added.

“I asked him again.”

Asked if he believed President Putin, Donald Trump replied: “He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”

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The US ordered Russia to close its San Francisco consulate and two trade missions in response to “unwarranted” Russian action, the State Department has announced.

The San Francisco consulate, and annexes in New York and Washington, must close by September 2.

The State Department’s move follows Moscow’s reduction of US diplomatic staff in Russia last month.

That in turn followed new US sanctions on Russia over Crimea and alleged election interference, which led to the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.

In December 2016, former President Barack Obama had ordered those expulsions, along with the closure of two compounds.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin did not respond initially to that move, with President Trump set to assume office, he then announced on July 31 a reduction of 755 US diplomatic staff in Russia, in retaliation for the US sanctions.

The US diplomats expelled have until September 1 to leave Russia – a day before the US closures of the Russian consulate and two annexes, which are trade missions, must be completed.

Image source Wikimedia

A senior administration official said on August 31 that the consulate and the residence attached to it as well as the two trade missions would close but no Russian staff would be required to leave the US.

Russia will be allowed to maintain the properties, but not use them, the official added.

According to the State Department, the US actions were “in the spirit of parity”. It blamed Russia for what it called a downward spiral in bilateral ties, but suggested it wanted an end to the current spat.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement: “The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased co-operation on areas of mutual concern.”

The move leaves each country with three consulates in place, Heather Nauert added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call on August 31, expressing “regret at the escalation of tensions in bilateral relations”.

According to a statement from the Russian foreign ministry, Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would study the order and respond accordingly.

Sergei Lavrov and Rex Tillerson are due to meet in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Earlier this month, President Trump said US relations with Russia were at a “dangerous low” amid a row with Congress over the fresh sanctions against Moscow.

The president, who wanted warmer ties with Russia, had opposed the bill, which included a provision that limits his ability to lift sanctions and forces him to consult Congress first.

President Trump has been dogged by claims that Russia tried to sway the election in his favor and several investigations are under way to determine whether anyone from his campaign colluded with Moscow.

However, Russia has repeatedly denied interfering and President Trump has insisted that there was no collusion, calling the investigations a “witch hunt”.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered 755 US diplomatic staff to leave Russia, in retaliation for new US sanctions against Moscow.

The decision to expel staff was made on July 29 , but President Putin has now confirmed the number who must go by September 1.

It brings staff levels to 455, the same as Russia’s complement in Washington.

This is thought to be the largest expulsion of diplomats from any country in modern history.

The number includes Russian employees of the US diplomatic missions across Russia.

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Staff in the embassy in Moscow as well as the consulates in Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg are affected.

Vladimir Putin did strike a conciliatory note, saying he did not want to impose more measures, but also said he could not see ties changing “anytime soon”.

The president told Russian TV: “More than 1,000 people were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, and that “755 people must stop their activities in Russia.”

Russia has also said it is seizing holiday properties and a warehouse used by US diplomats.

Vladimir Putin suggested he could consider more measures, but said: “I am against it as of today.”

The Russian president also noted the creation of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria as an example of a concrete result of working together.

However, in terms of general relations, Vladimir Putin added: “We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better.

“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for anytime soon.”

The new US sanctions were in retaliation both for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian interference in the US election.

In December, the Obama administration ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and expelled 35 Russian diplomats in response to alleged hacking of the US Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The new US sanctions on Russia were overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress despite objections from the White House.

US intelligence agencies believe Russia tried to sway the election in favor of President Donald Trump and now there are several investigations looking into whether anyone from his campaign helped.

Russia has always denied interfering and Donald Trump insists there was no collusion.

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had another, previously undisclosed conversation at the G20 summit in Hamburg, the White House has confirmed.

The president and his Russian counterpart spoke towards the end of a formal dinner but the White House has not revealed what was discussed.

Donald Trump has condemned media revelations of the talks as “sick”.

The two leaders’ relationship is under scrutiny amid allegations of Russian interference in the US election.

US intelligence agencies believe Russia tried to tip the election in Donald Trump’s favor, something denied by the Kremlin. Donald Trump has rejected allegations of any collusion.

The extra conversation happened during a private meal of heads of state at the G20 summit earlier in the month.

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President Trump left his seat and headed to Vladimir Putin, who had been sitting next to Melania Trump, media said. The president was alone with Vladimir Putin, apart from the attendance of the Russian president’s official interpreter.

Donald Trump had been seated next to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s wife, so the US interpreter at the dinner spoke Japanese, not Russian. No media were in attendance.

The length of the talks has been disputed.

Ian Bremmer, president of the US-based Eurasia Group, who first reported them in a newsletter to clients, said: “Donald Trump got up from the table and sat down with Putin for about an hour. It was very animated and very friendly.”

No-one else was nearby, so the topics of discussion were not known, he said.

Image NBC News

Ian Bremmer had not been at the dinner but said details were given to him by unnamed attendees who, he said, were “flummoxed, confused and startled” by the turn of events.

He told Bloomberg he had never before seen “two major countries with a constellation of national interests that are as dissident while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make nice-nice and be close to each other”.

In a statement, a senior White House official said there was no “second meeting”, just a brief conversation after dinner.

The official said: “The insinuation that the White House has tried to <hide> a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd. It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a president’s duties, to interact with world leaders.”

National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said it was not a meeting but a “pull aside”, adding: “A conversation over dessert should not be characterized as a meeting.”

President Trump later said on Twitter: “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is <sick>. All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!”

The dinner and its attendees have always been known. Only the Trump-Putin discussion had not been reported before.

At the earlier, formal meeting, their first face-to-face encounter, President Trump said he had repeatedly pressed President Putin about the allegations of interference in the US vote.

“I said, <Did you do it?> He said, <No, I did not, absolutely not>. I then asked him a second time, in a totally different way. He said, <Absolutely not>.”

There are congressional investigations, and one by a special counsel, into the allegations of Russian interference in the US election and possible collusion with the Trump team.

On July 18, the Senate intelligence committee said it wanted to interview Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and other members of the Trump team, over a meeting they had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016.

Donald Trump Jr. said he had attended the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya as he was promised damaging material on Hillary Clinton, but it did not materialize.

On July 19, Natalia Veselnitskaya told Russia’s RT TV channel she would be willing to testify before the Senate on the matter.

Meanwhile, the White House said President Trump would nominate former Utah governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, a key post for a president who promised to improve relations with Moscow.

Jon Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China and Singapore, needs to have his name confirmed by the Senate.

The suspicions over Russian interference are likely to play a significant factor in his confirmation process, correspondents say.

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Russia is threatening to expel about 30 US diplomats and seize US state property in retaliation for Washington’s sanctions, local officials confirm.

The threat came from Russian foreign ministry sources, quoted by the daily Izvestia. Other Russian officials have made similar statements recently.

In December 2016, the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two intelligence compounds.

The measures were a response to alleged Russian meddling in the US election.

Russia was already under US sanctions.

Former President Barack Obama acted against Russia after US intelligence sources had accused Russian state agents of hacking into Democratic Party computers to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

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President Vladimir Putin raised the issue of the Obama sanctions with President Donald Trump when they met in Hamburg last week, Izvestia reported.

Meanwhile, the Trump team is under investigation over alleged Russian collusion during last year’s presidential campaign. Russia has strongly denied interfering in the election.

In addition to expelling 35 Russian diplomats from Washington and San Francisco, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on nine entities and individuals including Russia’s GRU and FSB intelligence agencies. The US closed Russian intelligence compounds in New York and Maryland.

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President Putin refrained from tit-for-tat retaliation – unlike in previous diplomatic spats.

Russia says President Donald Trump presented “no plan to resolve the crisis” when the issue was raised in Hamburg.

An unnamed Russian diplomat told Izvestia that in retaliation Russia could seize a US government dacha (country villa) at Serebryany Bor, to the northwest of Moscow, and a US warehouse in the city itself.

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However, the US ambassador’s Spaso House residence and the Anglo-American School in St Petersburg would not be affected.

Russia would carry out the threat if no compromise was reached at a St Petersburg meeting later this month between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, Izvestia reported.

The US and its Western allies have also imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Russia because of Moscow’s role in the Ukraine conflict.

Russia blocked most imported Western food and drink in retaliation.

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President Donald Trump has backtracked on a proposal to work with Russia to create an “impenetrable” cyber security unit to prevent election hacking.

Hours after promoting the idea on July 9, Donald Trump said that he did not think it could actually happen.

The idea of a partnership with Russia was ridiculed by senior Republicans.

It comes after President Trump’s first face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany on July 7, in which the pair discussed the issue.

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President Trump described the outcome of the talks as positive and suggested closer co-operation between the two nations.

“Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cyber security unit so that election hacking, and many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” he said.

The initial proposal immediately prompted derision from Democrats, as well as some Republicans who questioned why the US would work with Russia after the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election.

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President Trump shifted his position on the next day, saying on Twitter: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a cyber security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t.”

However, the president stressed that another issue discussed in his talks with Vladimir Putin, a ceasefire in south-western Syria, had come into effect.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had sought to defend the proposed cyber unit after President Trump’s initial announcement.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Steve Mnuchin described it as a “significant accomplishment” for President Trump.

“What we want to make sure is that we co-ordinate with Russia,” he added.

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However, Republican Senator Marco Rubio suggested that such an initiative would be like partnering with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said: “It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.”

A special prosecutor is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US election.

Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin said the allegations had been discussed.

However, the two sides described the content of the meeting differently.

President Trump said he “strongly pressed” the issue with Vladimir Putin, who had “vehemently denied” interfering in the US election.

The president also said it was time to work more “constructively” with Russia.

Vladimir Putin said he believed President Trump had accepted his assurances that Moscow had not interfered in the vote.

However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said interference in the 2016 election remained an impediment to better relations with Russia, while the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said the US “can’t trust Russia” and “won’t ever trust Russia”.

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President Donald Trump has criticized China following North Korea’s test of a long-range missile, condemning it for increasing trade with Pyongyang.

He tweeted: “So much for China working with us.”

Meanwhile, the US and South Korea conducted a ballistic missile fire exercise in the Sea of Japan in response to North Korea’s action.

China and Russia have urged both sides to stop flexing their military muscle and said they oppose any attempts at regime change in North Korea.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “It is perfectly clear to Russia and China that any attempts to justify the use of force by referring to [United Nations] Security Council resolutions are unacceptable, and will lead to unpredictable consequences in this region which borders both the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.”

“Attempts to strangle the DPRK [North Korea] economically are equally unacceptable,” he added.

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North Korea’s missile launch, the latest in a series of tests, was in defiance of a ban by the UN Security Council.

Image source YouTube

The US has asked for an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss the issue. A closed-door session of the 15-member body will take place later on July 5.

President Trump held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida in April.

After those meetings, President Trump hailed “tremendous progress” with China.

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The trade figures showing an increase in trade between China and North Korea, which he was apparently referring to in July 5 critical tweet.

President Trump is now en route to Poland and Germany, where he will meet President Xi Jinping for the second time.

China, which is North Korea’s main economic ally, and Russia have called on the North to suspend its ballistic missile program in exchange for a halt on the large-scale military exercises by the US and South Korea.

President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met in Moscow on July 4, said “the opposing sides should start negotiations”.

On July 4, Japan said “repeated provocations like this are absolutely unacceptable” and lodged a protest.