Russian leader agrees to $1.5bn loan with Minsk and says Belarus crisis should be resolved without foreign interference.
Russia has agreed to a $1.5bn loan with Minsk, President Vladimir Putin said at talks on Monday with Alexander Lukashenko, the embattled Belarusian leader, adding that the Belarusian people should resolve the crisis without foreign interference.
Putin, in comments broadcast on television from the talks in Russia’s Sochi, said he thought a proposal by Lukashenko to carry out constitutional reform was logical and timely.
Lukashenko arrived in Sochi to meet Putin on Monday, as protests continued across Belarus seeking the end of his rule following a disputed August 9 election.
His plane landed in the Black Sea region a day after police arrested 774 people at anti-government rallies across the country, including 500 in the capital, Minsk, the Belarusian interior ministry said. At least 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of Minsk on Sunday.
The meeting, in which Lukashenko thanked Putin for his support, marked the first face-to-face talks between the leaders since the contested Belarusian election.
Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his victory at the time, but later described the vote as not ideal. The Russian president’s actions have so far suggest he has no desire to see the leader of a neighbouring ex-Soviet country toppled by pressure from the streets – even if Lukashenko has often proved a prickly and difficult ally.
Protests, some featuring violence, have gripped the country for five weeks since the vote, with anti-Kremlin placards seen at some rallies
“I’m worried about Russia’s intentions to enforce its interests here. We have to be friends with Russia, but it is not good for neighbouring countries to be involved in our internal problems,” said a protester at Sunday’s rally.
Katsiaryna Shmatsina of the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies told Media known to Noble Reporters Media: “Lukashenko this month has exhausted all the tools he used to apply in the previous years which were used to large scale oppression towards people. People would get beaten and detained and then this would scale down protests. This time this doesnt work.”
On Monday, the UN rights council agreed to host an urgent debate on reports of violence at the hands of authorities during protests.
Lukashenko, 65, last week gave an interview to Russian journalists, including Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Kremlin-controlled channel RT, in which he warned that if his government falls, “Russia will be next”.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the Eastern European nation of 9.5 million people with an iron fist since 1994, has previously blamed the West for fomenting demonstrations in Belarus in hopes of turning it into a “bridgehead against Russia”.
Reporting from Minsk, NRM said: “Lukashenko has left Belarus for the first time since the political crisis has started and his bargaining position has not improved after this mass rally on Sunday. He was hoping to keep the numbers low to show to President Putin that he has everything under control which obviously didn’t work.
“He needs more support from President Putin then ever before. And Putin is willing to give him his support because Putin really wants to prevent Belarus to fall in the hands of the West and possibly NATO. But that support will come at a price.”
Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently in Lithuania, warned Putin against signing any agreement with Lukashenko.
“She said she was sorry Putin was having a dialogue with an usurper and not with the Belarusian people,” said Vaessen.
The EU urged Russia on Friday not to intervene in Belarus after President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for the country’s embattled leader.
As EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin discussed the crisis, President Alexander Lukashenko — facing unprecedented protests calling for him to quit — accused the West of trying to topple him in order to weaken Moscow.
Meanwhile neighbouring Ukraine, which saw its own pro-Russian leader toppled after bloody protests in 2014, has offered refuge to Belarusians fleeing a regime crackdown.
The EU has rejected the official results of an August 9 presidential poll in Belarus, which saw Lukashenko re-elected with 80 percent of votes, and is preparing sanctions against his regime for electoral fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition protesters.
Putin on Thursday said he stood ready to send in his military to stabilise Belarus after weeks of huge demonstrations calling for Lukashenko, often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, to quit and hold new elections.
“I have heard many times from Russia the mantra that this is a domestic internal affair for Belarus and they do not want external interference. I suppose it’s also valid for themselves,” EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell said.
“It is solely for the Belarusian people to determine their own future,” he added, urging Russia to “respect the wishes and democratic choices of the Belarusian people.”
French President Emmanuel Macron was blunter, telling reporters in Paris that the “worst thing would be Russian intervention” in Belarus.
There “could be no repeat of what happened in Ukraine”, Macron added.
After an uprising in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and pro-Moscow forces declared breakaway republics in Ukrainian regions in the east.
‘Springboard to Russia’ Putin on Thursday also called on the Minsk authorities and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully, but the threat of military intervention by the Kremlin has raised the spectre of the crisis on the EU’s doorstep taking a darker turn.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years, renewed his claims that the West wanted to see the back of him for its own ends.
“Belarus is just a springboard to Russia, as always,” he said, according to the state news agency Belta.
“Unlike Hitler, who sent his army to Moscow, they are trying to destroy the government in place here and replace it with a new one that will ask another country for military assistance and deploy troops.”
EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin gave their backing to a list of some 20 individuals to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans for their role in rigging the Belarus election or cracking down on demonstrators.
Borrell said the list would encompass “individuals at high political level”, but it looks unlikely to include Lukashenko himself, despite calls from some countries for him to be targeted.
‘Deeply alarming’ The EU is supporting offers by the OSCE to broker a negotiated end to the crisis and hitting Lukashenko in person is seen as counterproductive to these efforts.
The OSCE on Friday described the post-election violence in Belarus as “deeply alarming” and called on Minsk to accept its offer to support dialogue and avoid a “nightmare”.
The current OSCE chair, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, said the sooner dialogue started “the better it is for everyone”.
Macron said Putin had told him Russia was open to OSCE mediation but Lukashenko was opposed.
“He (Putin) has to make efforts to help us in this direction,” the French president added.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Belarusians seeking to enter “Ukraine in an attempt to flee the crisis” would receive entry permits from his country’s border guards.
He said they will be given preferential treatment and be exempt from a month-long entry ban over spiking coronavirus cases.
The demonstrations that erupted in Belarus after the election and the violent police crackdown that followed have prompted comparisons with Ukraine’s pro-Western uprising in 2014.
Lukashenko’s notorious security services violently broke up peaceful protests after the vote, arresting nearly 7,000 people in a clampdown that sparked widespread allegations of torture and abuse in police custody.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring EU country Lithuania after claiming she beat the 65-year-old leader and calling for the protests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed military support for embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday, while urging a peaceful resolution to unrest and demonstrations that erupted after a disputed election.
EU ambassadors in the capital Minsk on Thursday denounced a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of the presidential poll, in which 65-year-old Lukashenko claimed a landslide reelection with some 80 percent of the vote.
The Belarusian strongman’s relationship with Putin had soured ahead of the August 9 ballot because Minsk refused closer integration with Russia — and even claimed Moscow had sent mercenaries across the border to organise riots.
Yet Putin on Thursday promised military backing for Belarus and said Russia had set up a reserve group of law enforcement officers to deploy if the post-vote situation deteriorated.
“It won’t be used unless the situation starts to get out of control,” Putin said, unless “extremist elements … begin setting fire to cars, houses and banks, begin seizing administrative buildings”.
But Putin also called on the authorities in Minsk and the opposition to “find a way out” of the crisis peacefully.
He conceded there were problems in Belarus, saying, “otherwise people wouldn’t take to the streets”.
The Russian leader’s calls for calm came after the European Union and ambassadors of member states in Minsk condemned a crackdown on government critics seeking new elections and Lukashenko’s resignation.
– ‘Unacceptable’ prosecution –
The opposition created a Coordination Council to oversee the peaceful transition of power after their leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania fearing reprisals.
Lukashenko ordered a criminal probe into the opposition’s attempts to “seize power” and several of the presidium’s members have been detained or summoned for questioning.
Maria Kolesnikova, an aide of Tikhanovskaya and member of the council, was summoned by investigators for questioning on Thursday. She said she invoked her right not to testify against herself.
The group’s most prominent member, Nobel Prize-winning author and outspoken government critic Svetlana Alexievich, was questioned by investigators on Wednesday and also refused to answer questions.
Two of the presidium’s members this week were sentenced to 10 days each in police detention for organising unsanctioned rallies and disobeying law enforcement orders.
“The European diplomats emphasised that prosecution of Coordination Council members on grounds presented by the authorities is unacceptable,” a joint statement said.
EU nations have also vowed to sanction individuals they say were involved in vote-rigging and the violent crackdown on protesters.
The EU ambassadors in Minsk on Thursday said that: “Belarusians are asking for an open dialogue with their own authorities about the future of their country,” urging “a peaceful and democratic process, underpinned by independent and free media and a strong civil society”.
– ‘Diplomatic war’ –
Lukashenko has dismissed calls to resign or host new elections, instead accusing Western countries and Russia of stirring political unrest.
The authoritarian leader on Thursday said the ex-Soviet country’s European neighbours had declared a “diplomatic war” and were meddling in Belarus’s internal affairs.
Last week he described demonstrators as “rats” in a video that showed him carrying an assault rifle, after more than 100,000 people took to the streets to demand he stand down.
His notorious security services rounded up nearly 7,000 participants in peaceful rallies that erupted in the days after the vote, and hundreds of detainees claimed they were abused by police in custody.
Local and international rights groups have urged the UN to investigate allegations of systematic torture at the hands of security services.
Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political newcomer who ran in place of her jailed husband, called for historic demonstrations and mass strikes following the election.
Workers at state-owned factories initially downed tools and joined the walk-outs in large numbers, but fewer employees have kept up participation due to pressure from the authorities, activists have said.
Industry Minister Pyotr Parkhomchik said Thursday that there were no ongoing strikes and that “all assembly lines have been restarted.”
Vladimir Putin has offered to help ensure Belarus’s security, according to its president Alexander Lukashenko, as pressure builds on the strongman leader and opposition protesters prepare for a show of force Sunday.
Thousands demonstrated in the capital Minsk Saturday after main election challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya asked supporters to rally over the weekend and keep alive a movement that poses the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s hold over the ex-Soviet country.
Many gathered at the spot where Alexander Taraikovsky, 34, died on Monday during protests against an election the opposition says was rigged to give Lukashenko another term in office.
Demonstrators heaped flowers at the spot and the crowd chanted “Thank you!” and raised victory signs. Police kept a low profile.
Many held up photographs of protesters beaten during the crackdown, while one man stood in his underwear revealing the purple bruises on his thighs, buttocks and back.
Later thousands protested outside the Belarusian state television centre, complaining that their broadcasts backed Lukashenko and gave a skewed picture of the protests.
Around 100 staff came out of the building to join the crowd, and said they planned a strike on Monday.
“Like everyone we are demanding free elections and the release of those detained at mass protests,” said one employee, Andrei Yaroshevich.
Riot police later arrived at the centre and blocked off the entrance to the building.
The opposition is planning a major show of force on Sunday with a “March for Freedom” through the streets of central Minsk.
– ‘I’m really afraid’ –
Facing the biggest challenge to his rule since taking power in 1994, Lukashenko called in Moscow’s help and spoke on the phone with Putin Saturday, after warning there was “a threat not only to Belarus”.
He later told military chiefs that Putin had offered “comprehensive help” to “ensure the security of Belarus”.
The Kremlin said the leaders agreed the “problems” in Belarus would be “resolved soon” and the countries’ ties strengthened.
While Lukashenko periodically plays Moscow off against the neighbouring EU, Russia is Belarus’s closest ally and the countries have formed a “union state” linking their economies and militaries.
Lukashenko criticised Russia during his election campaign and Belarus detained 33 Russians on suspicion of planning riots ahead of polls.
Opposition protesters slammed Lukashenko for now seeking Moscow’s aid and said they fear Russian intervention.
“It’s obvious that our president can’t deal with his own people any more, he’s seeking help in the east,” said Alexei Linich, a 27-year-old programmer.
“If Russia intervenes, that would be the worst. I’m really afraid of this,” said Olga Nesteruk, a landscape designer.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday urged Lukashenko to “engage with civil society”, during a trip to Poland, which has offered to act as a mediator.
Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who ran after other opposition candidates including her husband were jailed, accuses Lukashenko of rigging the vote and has demanded he step down so new elections can be held.
The 65-year-old has ruled Belarus with an iron grip and claims to have won the election with 80 percent of the vote.
Tikhanovskaya left the country on Tuesday for neighbouring Lithuania, with her allies saying she came under official pressure.
She is also demanding authorities be held to account for the crackdown, which saw police use rubber bullets, stun grenades and, in at least one case, live rounds to disperse protesters, with at least 6,700 people detained and hundreds injured.
Officials have confirmed two deaths in the unrest, including Taraikovsky — who they say died when an explosive device went off in his hand during a protest — and another man who died in custody in the southeastern city of Gomel.
– Call for ‘free and fair’ vote –
On Friday authorities began releasing hundreds of those arrested and many gave horrific accounts of beatings and torture.
European Union ministers have agreed to draw up a list of targets in Belarus for a new round of sanctions in response to the post-election crackdown.
The leaders of the three ex-Soviet Baltic states — Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — on Saturday condemned the crackdown and called for a new vote.
Lukashenko has dismissed the demonstrators as foreign-controlled “sheep” and “people with a criminal past who are now unemployed”, repeatedly accusing foreign governments of plotting his downfall.
Tikhanovskaya on Friday announced the creation of a Coordination Council to ensure a transfer of power, asking foreign governments to “help us in organising a dialogue with Belarusian authorities”.
She demanded the authorities release all detainees, remove security forces from the streets and open criminal cases against those who ordered the crackdown.
The student-led, anti-government movement has been calling for three significant changes to Thailand’s power structure: the dissolution of parliament, the rewriting of the military-drafted constitution and an end to the intimidation of dissidents
Liverpool have today announced the signing of Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich on a four-year contract. The deal sees Liverpool pay around £20million up front with another £5million of potential add-ons.
The Reds have been linked with a move for the Bayern Munich midfielder since before the end of last season, when he helped the German giants win their sixth Champions League crown in the revamped end to the tournament in Lisbon.
President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus and that one of his daughters has been inoculated.
The announcement came after scientists in the West raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners after coming under pressure from authorities to deliver.
“This morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus was registered” in Russia, he said during a televised video conference call with government ministers.
“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” he said.
He said one of his daughters had been inoculated with the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the Russian defence ministry.
“In this sense, she took part in the experiment,” Putin said, adding that she had a slight temperature after a second injection and “that’s all”.
“What counts most is for us to be able to ensure the unconditional safety of the use of this vaccine and its efficiency in the future. I hope that this will be accomplished,” Putin said.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that clinical trials involving several thousand participants would continue.
Tatyana Golikova, a deputy prime minister in charge of health issues, said officials hoped that vaccinations of medical staff could begin soon.
“We really hope that the vaccine can be produced in September, or even at the end of August or beginning of September, and the first category to be vaccinated will be medical personnel,” she said, quoted by Russian news agencies.
– Viral vector vaccine –
Russia has been pushing hard to quickly develop a coronavirus vaccine and said earlier this month it hoped to launch mass production within weeks and turn out “several million” doses per month by next year.
The World Health Organization last week urged Russia to follow established guidelines and go “through all the stages” necessary to develop a safe vaccine.
Spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters at the time that the WHO had not been officially notified of any Russian vaccine on the verge of being deployed.
The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.
The vaccine developed by Russia is a so-called viral vector vaccine, meaning it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding of the needed immune response into cells.
Gamaleya’s vaccine is based on the adenovirus, a similar technology to the coronavirus vaccine prototype developed by China’s CanSino.
The state-run Gamaleya institute came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticising the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials.
Moscow has dismissed allegations from Britain, the United States and Canada that a hacking group linked to Russian intelligence services tried to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from labs in the West.
With more than 897,000 confirmed infections, Russia’s coronavirus caseload is currently fourth in the world after the United States, Brazil and India.
China accused “certain countries” of spreading disinformation in a video call Friday with Russia, as the two nations sought a closer alliance while relations continue to deteriorate between Beijing and Washington.
The remarks come as China and the US have been caught in an escalating tit-for-tat dispute that spans media, territorial sovereignty, diplomacy, human rights, trade and technological dominance.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman and director of its information department Hua Chunying spoke with her Russian counterpart Maria Zakharova, the ministry said in a statement Friday evening.
“Both sides agreed that… certain countries, out of ideological bias and political needs, have been spreading disinformation, distorting history… politicizing the pandemic, pinning labels on the virus,” said the statement, echoing Beijing’s rebukes to US accusations that China had covered up the initial outbreak and handled it badly.
Such acts have “severely poisoned the atmosphere of global public opinion, obstructed international cooperation against the virus, and set obstacles to mutual understanding among people from different countries,” the statement continued, without naming the US directly.
Zakharova, for her part, said that instead of pooling resources to fight the coronavirus pandemic, China and Russia “must fight against attacks in the information field”.
Those attacks have escalated from “aggressive rhetoric” to “an attempt to provoke confrontation in the Russian and Chinese public sphere”.
Such attacks “will not succeed,” she continued, adding: “I think that if we fight back together (with China), then it will be twice as effective.”
Both China and Russia have been accused by the US of cyber attacks and espionage — but the relationship between Beijing and Moscow has been warming of late.
President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin exchanged messages on Thursday praising their cooperation on fighting COVID-19, Noble Reporters Media culled.
Beijing has repeatedly accused US officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of spreading a “political virus” and engaging in “slander” against China, particularly over the origins of the virus and China’s influence over the World Health Organization.
Both Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have previously suggested the virus was created or leaked from a Wuhan laboratory, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.
President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered amendments that would allow him to remain in power until 2036 to be put into the Russian Constitution after voters approved the changes during a week-long plebiscite.
“The amendments come into force. They come into force, without overstating it, at the people’s will,” Putin said after he signed a decree to have the constitution revised.
“We made this important decisions together, as a country.” the Russian president said during a video-conference with lawmakers who worked on drafting the amendments.
According to a copy of the decree released by the Russian government on Friday, the amendments will come into force on Saturday. The changes allow Putin to run for two more six-year terms after his current one expires in 2024, but also outlaw same-sex marriages, mention the “belief in God as a core value” and emphasize the primacy of Russian law over international norms.
Putin proposed amending the constitution in January and insisted on putting the language on his eligibility for office and the other topics up to a nationwide vote that wasn’t legally required after the changes were approved by Russia’s parliament and rubber-stamped by the country’s Constitutional Court.
The citizens’ vote was initially scheduled for April 22, but postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The balloting concluded on Wednesday amid widespread reports of pressure on voters and other irregularities.
Kremlin critics denounced the results of the plebiscite — with 78% “yes” votes and a nearly 68% turnout – as falsified and undermining the legitimacy of the amendments.
Central Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova rejected the accusations on Friday, saying that the results of the vote are “authentic” and their legitimacy is “indisputable.”
“The vote was carried out with the utmost transparency,” she said.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Friday that lawmakers would start working on bills implementing the amendments immediately, without taking their traditional summer break.
Russian Prime Minister, Mikhali Mishustin, has tested positive for COVID-19.
Mishustin revealed this in a video meeting the President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.
He said he will self-isolate to avoid putting members of the cabinet at risk.
According to him, “It just became known that the coronavirus tests I took came back positive, so I must oblige by the self-isolation rules and it’s mandatory [that I do that] for the safety of my colleagues.”
He also urged Putin to sign a decree appointing Andrey Belousov to his role on an acting basis.
Speaking on the development, Putin while assuring him that anyone could contact COVID-19 wished the Minister a quick recovery.
“What is happening to you now can happen to anyone. I hope that you stay able to work and will actively participate in government decision-making.
“Without your opinions and your participation these decisions will not be made,” he added
President Vladimir Putin postponed a vote on constitutional reforms and urged Russians to stay home to contain the coronavirus on Wednesday, but did not impose the kind of strong measures taken in other countries.
In a rare televised address to the nation, Putin said Russia could not isolate itself from the spreading pandemic but focused mainly on support for the struggling economy.
“The health, life and safety of people is our absolute priority,” Putin said.
The vote on constitutional reforms, which had been due to take place on April 22, “must be postponed to a later date”, he said, without specifying when.
The reforms, proposed by the president and approved by lawmakers over the last few months, would reset presidential term limits and potentially allow Putin, in power for 20 years, to stay in office until 2036.
Critics have denounced the project as a way for Putin to remain “president for life”.
He also took the unusual step of declaring March 28 to April 5 a non-working week in order to slow the spread of the virus, urging Russians to stay at home.
“It is extremely important now to prevent the threat of the disease spreading rapidly,” he said.
‘Can affect everyone’
“This can affect everyone. What is happening today in many Western countries — in Europe and across the ocean — can become our nearest future.”
He unveiled a series of measures to support Russians and boost the economy, including breaks on consumer loans and mortgage payments, support for small- and medium-sized businesses and early payouts of social benefits.
The coronavirus and a dizzying fall in oil prices have sparked a two-pronged crisis for the Russian economy, with the ruble falling to its lowest levels since early 2016.
This presents a huge challenge to Putin’s promises to boost growth and raise living standards.
The Kremlin announced Putin’s address as Russia on Wednesday recorded its biggest spike in confirmed coronavirus infections so far, with 163 new cases for a total of 658 across the country.
One person who was infected has died but officials are not linking the death to the virus.
Concern has risen as the number of cases steadily grows.
Putin met with top officials to discuss containment measures on Tuesday, putting on a yellow hazmat suit as he visited a major hospital treating coronavirus patients.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who heads a coronavirus task force, told Putin that the actual number of cases was probably “significantly” higher than official figures.
Russia previously imposed 14-day quarantines on people arriving from abroad, closed schools and told elderly residents in Moscow, where most of the cases are concentrated, to self-isolate.
It halted cultural and sports events and closed fitness clubs, cinemas and night clubs, although restaurants and cafes were allowed to remain open.
Authorities have repeatedly denied plans to impose lockdowns like those seen in China, Italy, Spain, France or Britain, but the warnings from officials on Tuesday were stark.
“The problem is that the volume of testing is very low and no one has a clear picture” of the situation in Russia and the world, Sobyanin told Putin.
Denis Protsenko, head doctor of Moscow’s new hospital treating coronavirus patients, told Putin that Russia needed to be ready for an “Italian” scenario, referring to what is now the hardest-hit country in the world in terms of deaths.
“If there is a big spike, and Moscow is headed there, our hospital is ready to transform,” he said.
Russian lawmakers have proposed imposing severe punishments — including up to seven years in prison — for people breaking coronavirus quarantine rules.
Apart from traditional New Year’s greetings, Putin rarely addresses the public on television. The last time was over unpopular pension reform in August 2018.
Putin did not say whether he will postpone plans for a massive military parade on May 9 to mark 75 years since the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Dozens of foreign leaders have been invited to take part.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday the postponement of the celebration had been discussed but no decision was yet made.
World leaders gather in Berlin on Sunday to make a fresh push for peace in Libya, in a desperate bid to stop the conflict-wracked nation from turning into a “second Syria”.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will be joined by the presidents of Russia, Turkey and France and other world leaders for talks from around 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) held under the auspices of the United Nations.
The summit’s main goal is to get foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop interfering in the war — be it through weapons, troops or financing.
Leaders of both warring factions — strongman Khalifa Haftar and the head of Tripoli’s UN-recognised government Fayez al-Sarraj — are also expected at what is the first such gathering since 2018.
Speaking to reporters before leaving Istanbul for Berlin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the summit could be “an important step on the way to cementing the ceasefire and a political solution” in Libya.
But pro-Haftar forces upped the ante ahead of the talks by blocking oil exports at Libya’s key ports, crippling the country’s main income source in protest at Turkey’s decision to send troops to shore up Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
The move underlined the devastating impact of foreign influence in the crisis.
“Libya needs all foreign interference to stop,” the United Nations’ special envoy Ghassan Salame told AFP.
The UN hopes all sides will sign up to a plan to refrain from interference, and commit to a truce that leads to a lasting end to hostilities, according to a draft of a final communique seen by media.
That document also urges all parties to re-commit to a much-violated UN arms embargo and raises the prospect of intra-Libyan political talks in Geneva at the end of the month.
If all goes to plan, the Berlin participants will hold an evening press conference.
But the summit has already ruffled feathers, with several countries in the region fuming at being left out, including Greece, Morocco and Tunisia.
Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed dictator Muammar Ghadafi
Most recently, Sarraj’s troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar’s forces.
Clashes killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile ceasefire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on January 12.
At follow-up talks in Moscow, Sarraj agreed to a permanent truce but Hafter walked away without signing the deal.
Although Sarraj’s government is recognised by the UN, powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar — turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests.
Alarm grew internationally after Erdogan ordered troops to Libya early January to bolster Sarraj.
Underlining the stakes involved, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “we have to make sure Libya doesn’t become a second Syria.”
Sarraj meanwhile issued a call for international “protection troops” if Haftar were to keep up his offensive.
Russian President, Vladimir Putin in his annual state of the nation address delivered on Thursday in Moscow announced new shocking reforms and sweeping changes to the country’s constitution that will make him President for the rest of his life.
In a shock announcement, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government was stepping down after Putin used his annual state of the nation address to propose constitutional reforms that would strengthen parliament’s role
On Thursday during a live address on national TV, Putin said he was sure the Russian people will support his sweeping changes to the country’s constitution that could keep him in power beyond 2024 long after his presidential term ends.
In his address, Putin described how power would be shifted from the presidency to parliament and the state council and comes as the Russian parliament backed his surprise choice for a new prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin.
“Of course these are very serious changes to the political system,’ Putin said in his address as he promised a referendum on the plans.
“It would increase the role and significance of the country’s parliament … of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister.”
“I’m sure that Russian people will support me,” he added.
In his speech, Putin also called for the power of the State Council, an advisory body, to be increased and enshrined in the constitution ensuring he rules for life just like China’s leader Xi Jinping.
Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister of Russia and the entire Russian government have resigned after President Vladimir Putin proposed a constitutional reform that would allow him remain in power indefinitely.
Speaking in his annual address to parliament on Wednesday, Putin proposed a referendum on amending Russia’s constitution to increase the powers of parliament while maintaining a strong presidential system.
“I consider it necessary to conduct a vote by the country’s citizens on an entire package of proposed amendments to the country’s constitution,” Putin said.
He also suggested an amendment of the constitution to allow lawmakers to name prime ministers and cabinet members.
“It will increase the role of parliament and parliamentary parties, powers and independence of the prime minister and all cabinet members,” Putin said.
“We will be able to build a strong prosperous Russia only on the basis of respect for public opinion.
“Together we will certainly change life for the better. Russia must remain a strong presidential republic.”
After President Putin made his plans known, his entire government including the country’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tendered their resignation to him.
Hours after the government resigned, Putin named federal tax chief Mikhail Mishustin, 53 years old and a relatively unknown technocrat, as the new prime minister.
According to RIA news agency, Mishustin will face a vote of approval in the lower house of parliament on Thursday.
A video has emerged where in a lighthearted exchange last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he invite US President Donald Trump to visit Damascus ‘to become normal’.
Assad signalled he was prepared to go ahead with the idea. Putin said he would pass the message to Trump.
The video, according to multiple reports was shot during Putin’s visit last week to Syria.
It was aired Sunday by the Russian-1 channel and it showed a conversation between Putin and Assad as they visited the Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Damascus.
Assad mentioned the New Testament story of Paul the Apostle, who became a Christian after experiencing a miracle as he traveled to Damascus where he planned to arrest disciples of Jesus.
According to Christian lore, the incident happened on the road where the church is located.
“If Trump arrives along this road, everything will become normal with him too,” Assad jokes to a smiling Putin, according to a translation by the Axios website.
Putin responds that Trump would be keen to visit and if he wasn’t, he’d convince the American leader to come.
According to the original Axios transalation, Putin agreed with Assad that Trump needs some healing in Damascus. He laughed and told Assad: “It will be repaired … invite him. He will come.” Assad answers that he is ready to invite Trump, to which Putin responds, smiling: “I will tell him.”
It was the second time that leaders would crack joke on American leader, that would be recorded on video. At NATO summit in London last month, Canadian leader, Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson were all captured on video mocking Trump.
Putin’s unannounced visit to Damascus was his second to the country during its ongoing civil war, where Russian troops have been fighting alongside Syrian government forces since 2015. It came amid a crushing Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
In addition, tensions between the US and Iran, an ally of Syria and Russia, have skyrocketed after the US killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Iraq, saying he was planning attacks on American interests. Iran responded with a missile attack on two US bases, also in Iraq, causing no injuries.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin has dismissed the impeachment charges against US President Donald Trump which he claimed were all made up.
Speaking during an annual press conference, Putin said he expects the US president to survive the historic proceedings.
Describing the impeachment proceedings as political infighting, the Russian leader insisted that the Democrats were seeking to make up for their loss in the 2016 presidential elections “by other means”.
“The Democratic party, which lost the elections, is achieving results through other means, by accusing Trump at first of conspiracy with Russia, then it turns out, there was no conspiracy at all.
“It then turned out that there was no collusion and it could not form the basis for an impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine.”
Recall that President Trump became the third president in US history to be impeached, after the House passed two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.