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Putin signs law taking Russia out of Open Skies arms control treaty




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Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) signed a law on Monday (7 June) that formalizes Russia's exit from the Open Skies arms control treaty, a pact that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, Reuters.

Russia had hoped that Putin and US President Joe Biden could discuss the treaty when they meet later this month at a summit in Geneva.

But the Biden administration informed Moscow in May that it would not re-enter the pact after the Trump administration quit it last year. Read more.


The Kremlin said on Monday that the U.S. decision to withdraw from the treaty had "significantly upset the balance of interests" among the pact's members and had compelled Russia to exit.

"This caused serious damage to the treaty's observance and its significance in building confidence and transparency, (causing) a threat to Russia's national security," the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.

Moscow had hoped that Biden would reverse his predecessor's decision. But the Biden administration did not change tack, accusing Russia of violating the pact, something Moscow denied. In January, Russia announced its own plans to leave the treaty, and the government submitted legislation to parliament last month to formalise its departure.


Russian officials said they regretted the U.S. decision not to rejoin, calling it a "political mistake" and warned the move would not create an atmosphere conducive to arms control discussions at a the Geneva summit later this month.


Ukraine seethes as Putin's party courts voters in separatist-held Donbass




Russian and separatist flags flutter in the air as lively music blares and soldiers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sit listening to speeches. Members of the Russian nationalist Night Wolves motorcycle club mill around nearby, write Alexander Ermochenko, Sergiy Karazy in Kyiv and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow.

Russia will hold parliamentary elections on 17-19 September and for the first time, United Russia, the ruling party that supports President Vladimir Putin, is campaigning in eastern Ukraine on territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

Up for grabs are the votes of more than 600,000 people who were given Russian passports after a Kremlin policy change in 2019 that Ukraine decried as a step towards annexation.


"I will vote for sure, and only for United Russia because I think with them we will join the Russian Federation," said Elena, 39, from Khartsysk in the Donetsk region.

"Our children will study according to the Russian curriculum, our salaries will be according to Russian standards, and actually we will live in Russia," she said, speaking at a United Russia rally in the city of Donetsk.

In 2014, after street protests ousted Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovich, Russia swiftly annexed another part of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rose up across eastern Ukraine, in what Kyiv and its Western allies called a Moscow-backed land grab.


More than 14,000 people have died in fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces, with deadly clashes continuing regularly despite a ceasefire that ended large scale combat in 2015.

Two self-proclaimed "People's Republics" run the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in a part of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbass. Moscow has cultivated close links to the separatists but denies orchestrating their rebellions.

In Donetsk, election billboards with images of Russian landmarks such as Moscow's St Basil's Cathedral are dotted around. The Russian rouble has supplanted the Ukrainian hryvnia. Kyiv, meanwhile, is furious at Russia staging an election on separatist-held territory.

"There is a total 'Russification' of this region going full steam ahead," Oleskiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's security and defence council, told Reuters in Kyiv.

"The other question is why is the world not reacting to this? Why should they recognise this State Duma?" he said in an interview in Kyiv, referring to the Russian parliament's lower house that will be chosen in the vote.

Russia says there is nothing unusual about people with dual Russian and Ukrainian nationality voting in a Russian election.

Donbass residents with Russian passports were entitled to vote "wherever they live", Russia's TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Aug. 31.

Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of blocking a permanent peace in the Donbass. A mass mobilisation of Russian forces near Ukraine's border earlier this year caused alarm in the West.

Across Russia itself, United Russia is expected to win the parliamentary election, as it has never failed to do in the Putin era, despite opinion poll ratings that have sagged lately over stagnant living standards. Opposition groups say their candidates have been denied access to the ballot, jailed, intimidated or pushed into exile, and they anticipate fraud. Russia says the vote will be fair.

Although the Donbass is small when compared with the overall Russian electorate, the ruling party's overwhelming support there could be enough to secure extra seats.

"Obviously United Russia's rating there is much higher and the protest vote is much lower there than across (Russia) on average," said Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speech writer turned political analyst.

"That's why they are mobilizing Donbass."

Yevhen Mahda, a Kyiv-based political analyst, said Russia was letting Donbass residents vote not only to boost United Russia, but to legitimise the separatist administrations.

"Russia, I would put it this way, with great cynicism, is exploiting the fact that most of the people living there have nowhere to go to get help, nobody to rely on, and often a Russian passport was the only way out of the desperate situation that people found themselves in on occupied territories."

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The Kuril Islands problem as a stumbling point between Russia and Japan



The problem of the territorial sovereignty over the Southern Kuril Islands or the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan has been unresolved since the end of the World War II and remains as it is up to nowadays, writes Alex Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

The issue of ownership of the islands remains in the focus of bilateral relations between Moscow and Tokyo, although the Russian side is making active efforts to "dissolve" this issue and find a replacement for it mainly through economic projects. Nevertheless, Tokyo does not give up trying to present the problem of the Kuril Islands as the main one on the bilateral agenda.

After the war, all the Kuril Islands were incorporated into the USSR, but the ownership of the islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islands is disputed by Japan, which considers them an occupied part of the country. Though the 4 islands themselves represent a rather small area, total area of the disputed territory, including the 200-mile economic zone, is approximately 200.000 square kilometres.


Russia claims that its sovereignty over the southern Kuril Islands is absolutely legal and is not subject to doubt and discussion, and declares that it does not recognize the very fact of the existence of a territorial dispute with Japan. The problem of ownership of the southern Kuril Islands is the main obstacle to the full settlement of Russian-Japanese relations and the signing of a peace treaty after the WWII. Moreover, the amendments to the Russian Constitution approved last year put an end to the Kuril issue, since the Basic Law prohibits the transfer of Russian territories.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently once again has draw the line under the dispute with Japan over the status of the Southern Kurils, which lasted 65 years. At the main event of the Eastern Economic Forum in early September 2021 he indicated that Moscow would no longer decide the fate of the islands bilaterally and questioned the strength of the 1956 Declaration that defines the relations between the Soviet Union and Japan. Thus, Putin removed the threats that would have arisen in the event of the transfer of the islands, experts say, but this could deprive the Far East of Japanese investments.

In the 1956 Declaration the Soviet Union agreed to the transfer of the Habomai Islands and the Shikotan Islands to Japan on the condition that the actual transfer of these islands to Japan would be made after the conclusion of a Peace Treaty between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Japan.


In the conditions of the Cold War the unpredictable and obviously weak Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wanted to encourage Japan to adopt the status of a neutral state by transferring the two islands and concluding the peace treaty. However, later the Japanese side refused to sign a peace treaty under pressure from the United States, which threatened that if Japan withdrew its claims to the islands of Kunashir and Iturup, the Ryukyu archipelago with the island of Okinawa, which was then under the US administration on the basis of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, would not be returned to Japan.

President Putin, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, announced that entrepreneurs on the Kuril Islands will be exempt from taxes on profit, property, land for ten years, as well as reduce insurance premiums; customs privileges are also provided.  

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said that the special tax regime proposed by Vladimir Putin in the Kuril Islands should not violate the laws of the two countries. 

"Based on the indicated position, we would like to continue to conduct a constructive dialogue with Russia in order to create suitable conditions for signing a peace treaty," Motegi added.

Japan said that Moscow's plans to create a special economic zone in the Kuril Islands, which were announced at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok by Russian President Vladimir Putin, contradict Tokyo's position. According to Japanese Government Secretary General Katsunobu Kato, calls to Japanese and foreign companies to participate in the economic development of the territory do not meet the "spirit of the agreement" reached by the leaders of the two states on joint economic activities on the islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai. Based on this position, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga completely ignored the EEF this year, although his predecessor Shinzo Abe attended the forum four times. It is difficult not to mention that Suga’s statement is merely a populist gesture – the current prime minister is very unpopular, the rating of his government has fallen below 30%, while Japanese hardliners love politicians who promise to "return the islands".

Russia's plans to intensively and rapidly develop the Kuriles, which were announced in July 2021 during a trip to the region by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, were immediately met with hostility in Tokyo. Katsunobu Kato called that visit "contrary to Japan's consistent position regarding the northern territories and causing great regret," and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi called it "hurting the feelings of the people of Japan." A protest was also expressed to the Russian ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin, who considered it "unacceptable", since the Kuril Islands were transferred to Russia "legally after the Second World War".

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov also voiced his dissatisfaction in connection with "unfriendly steps in the context of Tokyo's territorial claims" to Russia. And the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the head of government "visits those Russian regions that he considers necessary and on the development of which, including in cooperation with our partners, there is a lot of work to be done."

It is obvious that the problem of the Kuril Islands, as it is viewed by the Japanese side, is unlikely to find its solution on the terms of Tokyo.

Many analysts, and not only in Russia, are convinced that Japan's insistence on the so-called "northern territories" is based on purely selfish and practical interests. The islands themselves hardly represent any tangible benefit, given their modest size and harsh nature. For Tokyo, the sea wealth in the economic zone adjacent to the islands and, in part, the opportunities for tourism development are most important.

However, Moscow does not leave Tokyo with any hopes in terms of territories, offering instead to focus on economic cooperation, which would give both countries much more tangible results than fruitless attempts to antagonize each other.

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Russia's Vladimir Putin self-isolates after COVID-19 infects inner circle




Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday (14 September) he was self-isolating after several members of his entourage fell ill with COVID-19, including someone he worked with in close proximity and had been in close contact with all of the previous day, write Andrew Osborn, Maxim Rodionov, Tom Balmforth, Darya Korsunskaya, Gleb Stolyarov and Vladimir Soldatkin.

Putin, who has had two shots of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, explained the situation to a government meeting by video conference after the Kremlin said he was "absolutely" healthy and did not have the disease himself.

"It's a natural experiment. Let's see how Sputnik V works in practice," Putin said. "I have quite high levels of antibodies. Let's see how that plays out in real life. I hope everything will be as it should be."


Putin, 68, said the circumstances had forced him to cancel a planned trip to Tajikistan this week for regional security meetings expected to focus on Afghanistan, but that he would take part by video conference instead.

The Kremlin said Putin took the decision to self-isolate after completing a busy round of meetings on Monday, which included face-to-face Kremlin talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Read more.

Putin also met Russian Paralympians and travelled to western Russia on Monday to observe joint military drills with Belarus.


He was quoted by the RIA news agency as telling the Paralympians on Monday that he was worried about the COVID-19 situation in the Kremlin.

"Problems with this COVID are even surfacing in my entourage," Putin was quoted as saying at the time. "I think I'll be forced to quarantine myself soon. Many people around me are sick."

He said on Tuesday the colleague he worked with in close proximity - one of several entourage members who had fallen ill with COVID-19 - had been vaccinated but that his antibody count had later fallen and that the individual had fallen ill three days after being revaccinated.

"Judging by everything, that was a little late (to get revaccinated)," Putin said.

The Kremlin has had a rigorous regime in place designed to keep Putin, who turns 69 next month, healthy and away from anyone with COVID-19.

Kremlin visitors have had to pass through special disinfection tunnels, journalists attending his events must undergo multiple PCR tests, and some people he meets are asked to quarantine beforehand and be tested.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin's work rate would not be affected.

"But it's just that in-person meetings will not take place for a while. But that does not affect their frequency and the president will continue his activity via video conferences."

Asked if Putin had tested negative for COVID-19, Peskov said: "Of course yes. The president is absolutely healthy."

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the Sputnik V vaccine, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that, in his view, Putin would need to self-isolate for one week.

Gintsburg said any decision on the length of the isolation period was a matter for the Kremlin's own medical specialists.

Other world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have also been forced to self-isolate during the pandemic.

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