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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied any Russian interference into the presidential election.
According to the Washington Post article, President Obama was told early last August by sources deep within the Russian government that President Putin was directly involved in a cyber campaign to disrupt the election, injure Hillary Clinton and aid a Trump victory.
Image source AP
The Post said Barack Obama secretly debated dozens of options to punish Russia but in the end settled on what it called symbolic measures – the expulsion of 35 diplomats and closure of two Russian compounds. They came in late December, well after the election.
The paper reported that Barack Obama was concerned he might himself be seen as trying to manipulate the election.
The Post quoted a former administration official as saying: “From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, <<Wow, did we mishandle this>>.”
Measures President Obama had considered but which were not put into action included planting cyber weapons in the Russian infrastructure and releasing information personally damaging to Vladimir Putin.
President Trump tweeted on June 23: “The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?”
The president followed that up with two more tweets on June 24, the second saying: “Obama Administration official said they “choked” when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn’t want to hurt Hillary?”
Donald Trump repeats the argument in an interview with Fox News, which will air on June 25.
“If he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”
Allegations of collusion between the Trump team and Moscow officials during the election have dogged the president’s first five months in office.
Donald Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations, calling the investigations a “witch hunt”.
Donald Trump later commented that the outcome of the election had not been affected.
The report said that Russia’s objectives were to “undermine public faith” in the US democratic process and “denigrate” Donald Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.
Russia’s efforts to this end allegedly included hacking into email accounts used by the Democratic National Committee; using intermediaries such as WikiLeaks to release hacked information; and funding social media users or “trolls” to make nasty comments.
In the hearing’s opening remarks chairman Republican Richard Burr said “we are all targets of a sophisticated and capable adversary”.
Ranking Democrat Mark Warner said “Russia sought to hijack our democratic process” by employing a disinformation campaign on social media, which he describes as “Russian propaganda on steroids”.
Mark Warner said March 30 session would examine how Russia may have used technology to spread disinformation in the US, including the possible generation of fake news for voters in key states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“We are in a whole new realm around cyber that provides opportunity for huge, huge threats to our basic democracy,” he said.
“You are seeing it right now.”
Image source Getty Images
Former NSA director Keith Alexander will be one of those testifying on March 30.
Jared Kushner, who is married to President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, volunteered to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the White House has said, and is scheduled to appear next week.
Committee chairman Richard Burr said the panel would not shy away from the truth.
“This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads,” he said.
Richard Burr said that there had been “conversations” about interviewing Michael Flynn – who was sacked by President Trump as national security adviser for misleading the vice-president over his contacts with the Russian ambassador – but his appearance is not confirmed.
The Trump presidency has been unable to shake off allegations that members of its team colluded with Russian officials during the election campaign. The president has regularly dismissed the claims as “fake news” and Russia has also ridiculed the allegations.
Alexei Navalny, 40, tweeted from the building: “Hello everyone from Tversky Court. The time will come when we will have them on trial (but honestly).”
He also said that PM Dmitry Medvedev should be summoned by the court as the chief organizer of the protests.
Alexei Navalny has yet to go before a judge but is likely to face charges relating to organizing banned protests and could be held for 15 days.
March 26 protests drew thousands of protesters nationwide, including in Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Tomsk and several other cities, as well as Moscow.
At least 500 protesters were detained. Most of the marches were organized without official permission.
TV footages showed demonstrators chanting “Down with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin!”, “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin is a thief!”.
Correspondents say the marches appear to be the biggest since anti-government demonstrations in 2011 and 2012.
An EU spokesman said the Russian police action had “prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian constitution”.
The statement added: “We call on the Russian authorities to abide fully by the international commitments it has made… and to release without delay the peaceful demonstrators that have been detained.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement: “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.”
Alexei Navalny has been found guilty of embezzlement, Russian media report.
A judge was still reading the verdict in the city of Kirov, but news agencies said it was clear in his remarks that the Russian leading opposition leader had been convicted.
Even a suspended sentence would bar the outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin from running for president in 2018.
Alexei Navalny, 40, has denied the accusations, saying the case is politically motivated.
A sentence in the retrial may take hours to be read out. Prosecutors had asked the judge to hand Alexei Navalny a five year suspended sentence.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered a retrial after it said he was not given a fair hearing in the first trial, in 2013.
Alexei Navalny is known for his anti-corruption campaign, which targeted senior officials close to the Kremlin. He says the case is an effort to keep him out of politics.
He has recently stepped up his political activity after announcing plans last year to run for the presidency in 2018. President Putin is allowed by the constitution to run for a second consecutive six-year term, but he has not said yet if he plans to run.
Alexei Navalny’s rise as a force in Russian politics began in 2008 when he started blogging about alleged malpractice and corruption at some of Russia’s big state-controlled corporations.
He described Vladimir Putin’s United Russia as “the party of crooks and thieves”, a phrase that stuck among many in Russia.
Alexei Navalny stood for Moscow mayor in 2013 and got more than a quarter of the vote, a surprise for many.
In the first trial, in 2013, Alexei Navalny was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled timber worth 16 million roubles ($500,000) from the Kirovles state timber company while working as an adviser to Kirov’s governor, Nikita Belykh.
Alexei Navalny had described the rerun of the trial as an “exact copy” of the original proceedings, and said he was sure he would be found guilty once again.
President Donald Trump held a series of phone calls with world leaders, including one with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to the Kremlin, both sides had agreed to make fighting “international terrorism” – including ISIS and “other terrorist groups” in Syria – a top priority.
And the White House said the call was a “significant start” to improving a relationship “in need of repair”.
President Trump also spoke with leaders from Japan, Germany, France and Australia.
In a statement in English, the Kremlin provided more details of the first official call between the two leaders since Donald Trump took office.
The Kremlin said it was a “positive and constructive” conversation, during which they discussed the fight against terrorism, the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic stability, non-proliferation and Iran’s nuclear program, North and South Korea, the situation in Ukraine.
The Russian account of the call was also notable for its lack of any mention of economic sanctions against Russia by the US, which have been the subject of much speculation in recent days.
However, the statement did say both parties “stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade”, which, the Kremlin said, could aid the development of relations in other areas.
Russia considers all anti-Assad rebels in Syria as terrorist fighters, though the previous US administration has supported some moderate rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
The White House did not offer additional clarity on the items discussed, but rather issued a short statement saying: “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin also agreed to arrange a face-to-face meeting for a later date – and stay in “regular personal contact”.
In his other phone calls on January 28, President Trump invited Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to the White House in a meeting scheduled for February 10, press secretary Sean Spicer said.
Rex Tillerson has been narrowly approved as secretary of state, despite concerns about his business ties to Russia.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee split along party lines, with all 11 Republicans voting in favor and all 10 Democrats against. A full vote will now be held in the Republican-run Senate.
The move capped a busy day for Donald Trump’s administration.
Most notable was the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fulfilling a campaign pledge.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order to pull out from the 12-nation trade deal that had been a linchpin of former President Barack Obama’s Asia policy.
He said: “Great thing for the American worker what we just did.”
Also on January 23, the Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Donald Trump’s CIA director.
Mike Pompeo’s immediate task, correspondents say, will be to establish an effective relationship between the spy agency and Donald Trump.
Image source Flickr
Donald Trump has been critical of the CIA for concluding that Russia had been actively working to influence the US presidential election in his favor.
In another development, new US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Washington had an “unshakeable commitment” to NATO, despite Donald Trump’s earlier description of the military alliance as “obsolete”.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Rex Tillerson after leading Republican Senator Marco Rubio dropped his opposition.
Marco Rubio sparred with Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings earlier this month, accusing him of being soft on Russia.
The 64-year-old former head of Exxon Mobil knows Russian President Vladimir Putin through his business dealings.
However, Rex Tillerson has criticized Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in 2014.
Marco Rubio said that although he had doubts over the choice, he believed a new president was entitled to deference in assembling his cabinet.
“Despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate,” said Marco Rubio.
He had challenged Rex Tillerson over his refusal to call President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” over Russia’s air strikes in Syria and his failure to condemn strongly enough human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
Marco Rubio was among the candidates who fought Donald Trump in the battle for the Republican presidential ticket.
The partisan split in the voting is unusual. Traditionally, nominees for secretary of state have been approved by overwhelming votes from both parties.
Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, had said he would not vote for Rex Tillerson, also over his position on Russia as well as other issues.
He also suggested that Rex Tillerson’s “business orientation” could “compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined” America.
While critics raise concern about Rex Tillerson’s ability to trade in his corporate interest for a national one, some supporters suggest the former CEO’s background as a global dealmaker may bring fresh perspective to the nation’s top diplomatic post.
At a closed doors meeting on January 23, Donald Trump told congressional leaders he would have won the popular vote in the election if millions of undocumented immigrants had not voted illegally. He gave no evidence for the claim.
Hillary Clinton won nearly three million votes more than Donald Trump, who got more support in key swing states and won the Electoral College.
However, any notion of widespread voter fraud was widely rejected as untrue when Donald Trump made the same claim in November.
Vladimir Putin has described allegations Russia holds compromising material on President-elect Donald Trump as “utter nonsense”.
The Russian president questioned what reason Russian intelligence would have had to spy on Donald Trump before he entered politics.
Vladimir Putin said those making the allegations were “worse than prostitutes”.
Memos published last week alleged Donald Trump’s election team colluded with Russia which also had salacious videos of his private life.
The allegations claim Russia has damaging information about Donald Trump’s business interests, and that Trump had been filmed with prostitutes at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.
Donald Trump has dismissed the memos, said to have been prepared by a former British spy, as “fake news”.
Image NBC News
Speaking in Moscow, Vladimir Putin also said the published documents were “clearly fakes”, published by those trying to “undermine the legitimacy of the elected president”.
“When Trump came to Moscow, he was not a political figure, we were not even aware of his political ambitions,” he said.
“Does somebody think that our secret services are chasing every American billionaire? Of course not. It is utter nonsense.”
Vladimir Putin added that he did not see why Donald Trump would rush to meet prostitutes in Moscow, given he was organizing beauty pageants and meeting “the most beautiful women in the world”.
“I find it hard to imagine he ran to a hotel to meet our girls of <<low social responsibility>>… though they are of course also the best in the world. But I doubt Trump took that bait.”
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the UK ex-spy said to have prepared the memos is “some runaway crook from the MI6”.
US intelligence agencies considered the claims relevant enough to brief both Donald Trump and President Barack Obama.
Donald Trump accused US intelligence of leaking the content from a classified briefing – a claim denied by National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
Vladimir Putin also said reports that Russian hackers had interfered in the US election were “fake news”, though he told people to keep in mind that “the hackers didn’t make anything up – whoever they were – they just uncovered material”.
The hacking scandal dominated the US election campaign, with US spy agencies concluding Russia was behind the hacking and release of Democratic Party emails intended to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Russia has consistently denied it.
Signaling optimism that the US-Russia relationship will improve under the new administration, Sergei Lavrov said he was encouraged by some pragmatic comments from the Trump team so far.
Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was ready to co-operate with the new administration on key issues including nuclear weapons and Syria. US representatives have been invited to Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan next week but are yet to respond, he added.
“I am convinced we will be able to restart a dialogue on strategic stability with Washington that was destroyed along with everything else by the Obama administration,” Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by Reuters.
US-Russia relations have worsened significantly in recent years over the war in Ukraine, the Syrian conflict and cyber-hacking.
In his first press conference as president-elect, Donald Trump says allegations Russia has compromising material on him are “fake news, phoney stuff”, put together by “sick people”.
Donald Trump was replying to unsubstantiated allegations that his election team colluded with Russia and there were salacious videos of his private life.
Intelligence agencies considered the claims relevant enough to brief both President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama last week.
Donald Trump also said for the first time that Russia was behind hacking attacks.
He went on to confirm he was handing total control of his businesses to his two sons.
His first briefing was scheduled in order for Donald Trump to give details about his business affairs, but was dominated by the allegations of compromising material.
Donald Trump said the information “should never have entered paper… it should never have been released”.
Image source Flickr
“It’s all fake news, it’s phoney stuff, it didn’t happen,” he said, adding that “sick people” had “put that crap together… it’s an absolute disgrace”.
Donald Trump thanked the news organizations that chose not to run with the claims, which have been circulating for months.
He said he could not talk about what he heard in last week’s intelligence agency briefing, but said there had been “many witnesses” there and that it would be a “tremendous blot” on the reputation of intelligence agencies if they had been responsible for leaking the details.
“That’s something that Nazi Germany would have done,” he said.
In response White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was “deeply misguided for anybody, at any level, to question the integrity and motives of the patriots” in the nation’s intelligence agencies.
A 35-page dossier of allegations has been published in full on Buzzfeed and reported by CNN.
Donald Trump called Buzzfeed a “failing pile of garbage” and accused CNN of “going out of their way to build it up”.
The allegations claim Russia has damaging information about Donald Trump’s business interests, and salacious video evidence of his private life, including claims of using prostitutes at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow.
Denying any such claims, Donald Trump said that as a high-profile person he was extremely cautious about all that he did when travelling abroad.
Russia has also strongly denied the allegations.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said they were “pulp fiction” and a “clear attempt to damage relations”.
Donald Trump said he “respected” Vladimir Putin for putting out a statement.
He was also asked about the hacking scandal that dominated the US election campaign, with the intelligences concluding Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party emails.
Donald Trump said for the first time “I think it was Russia”, but added that “we get hacked by other people”.
The president-elect said: “We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done.”
But he added: “Look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking… Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it.”
Donald Trump added: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.”
He did not answer directly when asked whether his team had communicated with Russia during the election campaign, but he did say that any hacking by Vladimir Putin must stop.
“He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it.”
Before today’s briefing, the Trump team acted to dismiss news of the compromising material.
Michael Cohen, a lawyer to Donald Trump named in the 35-page dossier, denied a specific claim that he went to Prague in August or September 2016 to meet Kremlin representatives to talk about the hacking.
He tweeted: “I’ve never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews.”
Reince Priebus, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, called the dossier report “phoney baloney garbage”.
US media suggest the alleged salacious videos were prepared as “kompromat” – material collected about a politician or public figure in order to create a threat of negative publicity, if needed.
The allegations began circulating in political and media circles in recent months. The existence of the documents was first reported by Mother Jones in October 2016.