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What to expect from a possible meeting of the US and Russian presidents?

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President Biden's recent offer to meet with President Putin in mid-June for talks is still among the top news stories in the international news feed. Analysts and journalists are wondering where in Europe this meeting will take place. However, the location of the summit is obviously not the main thing in the upcoming event. The agenda of these negotiations should be fundamental, especially in view of Washington's harsh rhetoric against Moscow and the ongoing series of new sanctions, writes Alex Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

On the one hand, as Secretary Blinken said in a recent interview with BBC News: "Washington wants a stable relationship with Moscow."

But at the same time, the American side promises to respond to Russia's "irresponsible and destabilising behaviour".

Blinken also said that at a recent G7 meeting in the UK, the US focused on Russia's interference in its elections and hacking attacks through software firm SolarWinds, which are attributed to the Russian side. In addition, the situation around the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently in prison and declared a "prisoner of conscience"in the West, was discussed.

Earlier, the G7 foreign ministers called for stable and predictable relations with Moscow. Before that, US President Joe Biden was warned against fighting with Russia.

Blinken stated Biden's desire to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin the stabilization of relations between Moscow and Washington. He added that the United States does not seek to aggravate relations with Russia, but will respond to those steps that it considers unfriendly. According to the head of the State Department, “a direct conversation between the leaders will benefit both countries”.

The Russian-American summit is expected to take place in mid-June in Europe — although there is no official confirmation yet, and the Kremlin is in no hurry to respond to Washington's proposal. The location hasn't been selected yet. The capitals of Finland, Austria, and even the Czech Republic are named (despite the growing scandal over Russia's accusations of involvement in the explosion at an ammunition depot in the Czech town of Vrbetice). The Kremlin, for its part, considers all these conversations "premature". So far, only preliminary dates are mentioned -June 15-16.

It is known that by this time, Biden will be in Europe for several days as part of a grand tour. He is going to attend the G7 summit in British Cornwall (June 11-13) and the NATO summit in Brussels (June 14). And in the status of the "leader of the Western world", Biden intend to go to a meeting with Putin.

What will Biden discuss in Europe on the eve of the meeting with Putin? The same thing that was just discussed in London at the G7 Foreign Ministers' meeting: countering Russia and China. This will also be discussed at the NATO summit — " Russia's aggressive actions and international changes in the security sphere associated with the strengthening of China."

Whatever analysts and journalists may think, the meeting of the leaders of Russia and the United States, if it takes place, is unlikely to lead to a breakthrough in relations. The gap between Moscow and Washington is too wide. As it is known, the Russian ambassador to America Anatoly Antonov was recalled to Russia more than a month ago (since March 17) "for consultations".

Moscow makes it clear that Antonov is not expected to return to Washington in the near future. Russia expects the United States to "take at least some steps to normalize relations." It is believed that the ambassador was invited to Russia for consultations after Biden reacted positively to a question that Putin was a "killer".

The Foreign Ministry said that Antonov was invited to search for "ways to improve" relations between Russia and the United States. The official representative of the Ministry Maria Zakharova said at the time that Moscow wanted to prevent the “irreversible degradation " of bilateral relations.

After arriving in Moscow, Ambassador Antonov said that the diplomats have a lot of work to do to analyze the current state of Russian-American relations. Russia is determined not to let them "fall into the abyss," Antonov added.

Whatever politicians and journalists might expect from Biden's proposed meeting, Washington's list of grievances is too long to even briefly touch on all the topics during the talks. At the same time, one must not forget that the Kremlin categorically disagrees with the various accusations and statements of the White House. Moreover, Moscow believes that America is deliberately "teasing" Russia in order to prevent the strengthening of its foreign policy and economic positions in Europe and the world. The best example for this is Washington's aggressive attacks on the Nord Stream 2 energy project, attempts to denigrate Moscow's actions in Syria by all means. An additional factor is the already traditional accusations against Russia of interfering in the internal political processes in the United States, first of all presidential elections.

If we add to this the diametrically opposite approaches of Russia and America to the situation in Ukraine and the notorious issue of Crimea, then the chances of achieving any compromise or even rapprochement of the positions of both sides remain slim.

Biden is likely to repeat his famous "mantra" that Russia will "pay a high price" for attacking US interests. The Russian side will once again make statements about the groundlessness of the American accusations against Moscow.

In any case, if the meeting takes place, it will become a certain landmark moment, which should confirm or refute Washington's real readiness to build a "normal dialogue" with Moscow. Although, as many in Russia believe, such a readiness of the American side would be a big surprise if, moreover, the words of the Americans are confirmed by the case.

Russia

Court outlaws Kremlin critic Navalny’s network in pre-election knockout

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A Russian court on Wednesday (9 June) outlawed groups linked to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after declaring them “extremist”, a move that bans his allies from elections and will further strain US-Russia ties before a closely watched summit, write Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn.

President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden are due to hold talks in Geneva next week with the fate of Navalny and the crackdown on his movement certain to be on the agenda.

Washington, which has asked Moscow to free Navalny, condemned the court decision, with the State Department calling it "particularly disturbing". The Kremlin says the matter is a purely domestic one and not Biden's business. It has portrayed Navalny as a US-backed trouble maker, something Navalny has denied.

Wednesday's ruling, the latest chapter in a long-running crackdown on Putin's fiercest domestic opponent, delivers a final hammer blow to a vast political network that Navalny built up over many years to try to challenge the veteran Russian leader's grip on power.

Putin, 68, has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999. Navalny, in jail for parole violations related to an embezzlement case he says was trumped up, had mounted a bold challenge to Putin via street protests and graft investigations which he had hoped would bring about a change of leadership.

The legal case against Navalny's network was brought by the office of Moscow's top prosecutor who had accused Navalny and his allies of trying to foment a revolution by seeking to destabilise the socio-political situation inside Russia with their activity.

A spokesperson for the Moscow prosecutor's office told reporters on Wednesday that he was pleased with the ruling which had recognised that Navalny's allies had organised illegal street rallies that had ended in mass unrest.

After a 12.5 hour legal hearing behind closed doors, Navalny's lawyers said in a statement they would appeal and that the evidence presented by prosecutors had not been satisfactory.

The legal offensive mirrors ones waged in the past against far-right groups, Islamist organisations and the Jehovah's Witnesses which were also declared "extremist" by courts and banned.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

Navalny and his allies denied the prosecutor's allegations, casting them as an attempt to try to crush their political opposition to the ruling United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

In a message posted on Navalny's Instagram account apparently drafted in anticipation of what was a widely expected ruling, Navalny was cited as urging his supporters to not be disheartened.

"We're not going anywhere," the message read.

"We'll digest this, sort things out, change, and evolve. We'll adapt. We won't step back from our aims and ideas. This is our country and we do not have another one."

The prosecutor's request formally ends the activity of a network of groups set up by Navalny, 45, who is serving a 2-1/2 year jail term, something many Western countries have portrayed as politically-motivated revenge for his anti-Kremlin political activities.

Specifically, the ruling targets Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation which has produced high-profile investigations into alleged official corruption, and Navalny's regional campaign headquarters which have mobilised in the past to organise anti-Kremlin protests.

The authorities now have the formal power to jail activists and freeze their bank accounts if they continue their activities. The case had already prompted Navalny's allies to suspend the groups even before the ruling.

In the run-up to the verdict, Putin last week signed legislation that barred members of “extremist” organizations from running for office.

Combined with Wednesday's ruling, the new legislation ends hopes by some Navalny allies to run for parliament.

They say they will try to use a smart or tactical voting strategy instead to seek to undermine support for the pro-Kremlin ruling party, a strategy Kremlin sources have belittled.

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Kremlin insider arrested in Switzerland following US request

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Russian businessman Vladislav Klyushin was arrested during a stay in Valais last March at the request of the American authorities. Klyushin is a close associate of Alexeï Gromov, a senior official in the Russian presidential administration. Gromov is widely considered to be "the person in charge of the Kremlin's control of the Russian media" and was placed under American sanctions two months ago. Klyushin is said to be the creator of a powerful media monitoring system used by Russian services. Currently detained in Sion, he opposes his extradition to the United States. The information emerges from a judgment of the Federal Tribunal (TF) made public just days before the meeting of Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin which is scheduled for 16 June in Geneva.

It only took 24 hours for the US authorities to obtain the arrest of Vladislav Klyushin on 21 March 21, while he was in Valais. This is revealed by a judgment of the Federal Supreme Court released on June 3.

The facts with which he is accused in the United States have not been disclosed. According to the Swiss TF ruling Vladislav Klyushin is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the Massachusetts District Court on 19 March, 2021, but no indictment has yet been made public on the US side .

Vladislav Klyushin's name appeared in 2018 as part of a Proekt media investigation into how the Kremlin managed to infiltrate and then turn anonymous Telegram messaging channels into a propaganda weapon. It included Nezygar, one of the most prominent anonymous channels in the country.

According to journalists, this infiltration operation was supervised by Alexei Gromov, deputy director of the presidential administration of Vladimir Putin, with the help of Vladislav Klyushin.

The latter would have created the Katyusha media monitoring system, sold to the Russian authorities by his company OOO M13.

Also according to the Russian media, Alexeï Gromov regularly encouraged the Russian services and ministries to use the Katuysha system, whose name is inspired by the famous Soviet rocket launchers which were notorious for their powerful but imprecise shots.

Last January, the Kremlin signed a 3.6 million SF contract with M13 for the use of its surveillance software for “analysing messages on electoral processes, political parties and the non-systemic opposition” .

Former press secretary to President Vladimir Putin, Alexeï Gromov is described as “a discreet man (…) but who is nonetheless a key manager of the control exercised by the Putin government over what is said - or not - in the main Russian print and audiovisual media. ”

Already under European sanctions since 2014 in connection with the invasion of Crimea, Gromov was the first target of a new round of sanctions pronounced on 15 April by the US Department of the Treasury.

Alexei Gromov is accused of having "directed the use by the Kremlin of its media apparatus" and of having "sought to exacerbate tensions in the United States by discrediting the American electoral process in 2020".

On the day the sanctions were announced, US President Joe Biden called for a de-escalation of tensions with Russia. “The United States is not seeking to start a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable and predictable relationship,” he said. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Geneva on June 16.

Held in pre-trial detention since his arrest on 21 March, Vladislav Klyushin told Swiss authorities he opposed his extradition to the United States.

Represented by lawyers Oliver Ciric, Dragan Zeljic and Darya Gasskov, he filed a first appeal before the Federal Criminal Court (TPF), on 6 April, to request the lifting of his pre-trial detention.

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Will the Russian authorities consider the extradition of Pyotr Kondrashev?

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In May of this year, the law enforcement agencies of Cyprus handed over to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office the former top manager of the Perm Ecoprombank, Andrei Tuev, who was put on the wanted list back in 2016, the Rambler portal indicates.

In Russia, he is accused of abuse of authority, which caused damage to the bank about 500 million rubles. It took about four years to resolve the issue of extradition. (https://www.politicallore.com/pyotr-kondrashev-can-be-extradited-to-russia/26142)

Perm "Ecoprombank" went bankrupt in 2014. The Central Bank revoked his license for risky credit policy, placement of funds in low-quality assets, inability to fulfill obligations to customers and depositors. Experts of the Sostav.ru paid attention that “one of the owners of the bank is an oligarch and a member of the Forbes list, Petr Kondrashev. His name is associated with resonant murders, and budget scams, and the withdrawal of money abroad. If Ecoprombank had called itself the bank of Petr Kondrashev, hardly anyone would have entrusted him with anything. But often such people prefer to remain in the shadows."

According to market experts, after four years of litigation with the Cypriot authorities regarding Andrei Tuev, the Russian authorities will be able to obtain new data on Petr Kondrashev's informal control over Ecoprombank.

However extradition of Mr. Tuev and his willingness to cooperate with investigators can help to reveal theft scheme details. Particular interest of investigators can be the fact of replacing marketable assets of 673 million rubles cost to individual’s and organization’s debt with unknown credibility.

Kommersant media says that investigation can rise to another level of awareness. Their source mentions that in 2018 Vadim Manin, former vice of Tuev was accused of deducing apartments from deposit. He was found guilty for abuse of authority and convicted to 2,5 years in prison. According to Kommersant sources, the credit committee and board members testify against Manin. “It was easy for them, because Vadim Manin was living abroad for several years. But now Tuev can give “his” testimony for episodes that investigation has not known yet - source said. “Investigation obviously waited for Tuev’s extradition, because Petr Kondrashev stayed in the shadows for a long time. Clearly that now, according to new episodes revealing, Russian authorities can apply for his extradition. And they have all the chances to succeed.”

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