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Kremlin says Russian military movements near Ukraine pose no threat

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The Kremlin said on Monday (5 April) that Russian military movements near its shared border with Ukraine posed no threat to Ukraine or anyone else and that Moscow moved troops around its country as it saw fit, writes Dmitry Antonov.

NATO voiced concern last week over what it said was a big Russian military build-up near eastern Ukraine and as Russia warned that a serious escalation in the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region could “destroy” Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday told reporters on a conference call that Russia was always looking out for its own security.

Czech Republic

Czech police hunt two men wanted over Salisbury novichok poisonings

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Police in the Czech Republic are hunting two men whose passports match the names of the two suspects in the Salisbury poisonings.

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (pictured) are wanted in the UK over the novichok attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018.

Czech police said on Saturday (17 April) that they are searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones under the names Petrov, 41, and Boshirov, 43.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with novichok and found slumped on a bench in Salisbury in March
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were attacked with a nerve agent in 2018

It comes as Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said 18 Russian diplomats are being expelled over allegations that Russian intelligence services were involved in an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014.

The explosion happened on 16 October at a depot in the town of Vrbetice where 50 tonnes of ammunition was being stored. Two men died as a result. Advertisement

Mr Babis said: "There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU... in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area."

Czech foreign minister Jan Hamacek said 18 Russian embassy staff identified as secret service personnel would be ordered to leave the country within 48 hours.

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A diplomatic source cited by Russian news agency Interfax suggested the expulsions could prompt Russia to shut the Czech Republic's embassy in Moscow.

Petrov and Boshirov denied being Russian operatives or being involved in the Skripals' poisoning in March 2018.

They told Russia Today they were only in Salisbury as tourists to visit the cathedral and nearby Stonehenge.

Police published a detailed photographic account of the men's movements while in the UK.

An Interpol "red notice" and a European warrant have been issued for their arrest should they try to leave Russia.

Czech Police said in a statement that they are looking for "two persons" who "used at least two identities... in connection with the investigations of the circumstances of serious crime".

They said they were in the Czech Republic from 11 to 16 October 2014, "first in Prague, then in the Moravian-Silesian Region and the Zlin Region".

As well as Petrov and Boshirov, they also used Moldovan and Tajikistan passports under the names Nicolai Popa and Ruslan Tabarov, they added.

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US set to slap new sanctions on Russia: sources

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The United States were set to announce sanctions on Russia as soon as Thursday (15 April) for alleged election interference and malicious cyber activity, targeting several individuals and entities, people familiar the matter said, write Trevor Hunnicutt, Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland.

The sanctions, in which 30 entities are expected to be blacklisted, will be tied with orders expelling about 10 Russian officials from the United States, one of the people said.

The United States is also expected to announce aggressive new measures targeting the country’s sovereign debt through restrictions on U.S. financial institutions’ ability to trade such debt, according to another source.

The White House, the US State Department and the US Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The action will add a new chill to the already frosty relations between Washington and Moscow, which has tested the West’s patience with a military build-up near Ukraine.

The wide-ranging sanctions would come partly in response to a cybersecurity breach affecting software made by SolarWinds Corp that the U.S. government has said was likely orchestrated by Russia. The breach gave hackers access to thousands of companies and government offices that used the company’s products.

Microsoft President Brad Smith described the attack, which was identified in December, as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.”

The United States also intends to punish Moscow for alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In a report last month, U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed efforts to try to swing the election to then-President Donald Trump and away from now-President Joe Biden.

Biden has also vowed to take action on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The expected moves by the Biden administration are likely to exacerbate tensions in a relationship that slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer.”

In a call on Tuesday, Biden told Putin that the United States would act “firmly” to defend its interests in response to those actions, according to U.S. officials’ account of the call.

Biden also proposed a meeting with Putin “in a third country” that could allow the leaders to find areas to work together.

In the past few weeks, Washington and its NATO allies have been alarmed by a large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“The hostility and unpredictability of America’s actions force us in general to be prepared for the worst scenarios,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week, anticipating the new sanctions.

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Turkey says not picking a side in Ukraine-Russia conflict - Turkish formin

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Turkey is not picking a side in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday (15 April) in an interview on broadcaster NTV, writes Tuvan Gumrukcu.

President Tayyip Erdogan called at the weekend for an end to “worrying” developments in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov subsequently said Turkey and other nations should not feed “belligerent sentiment” in Ukraine.

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