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NATO vs Russia: Dangerous games

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It seems that the Black Sea has recently become more and more an arena of confrontation between NATO and Russia. Another confirmation of this was the large-scale military exercises Sea Breeze 2021, which were recently completed in the region, which Ukraine hosted, writes Alexi Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

The Sea Breeze — 2021 exercises are the most representative in the entire history of their holding. They were attended by 32 countries, about 5,000 military personnel, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, 18 groups of ground and sea special forces from Ukraine, as well as NATO member and partner countries, including the United States.

The main venue for the exercises was Ukraine, which, for obvious reasons, considers this event as a military and partly political support for its sovereignty, primarily in view of the loss of Crimea and the military—political impasse in the Donbas. In addition, Kiev hopes that hosting such a large-scale event will contribute to the speedy integration of Ukraine into the Alliance.

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A few years ago, the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation was a regular participant in this series of maneuvers. Then they worked out mainly humanitarian tasks, as well as interaction between the fleets of different states.

In recent years, the scenario of the exercises has changed significantly. Russian ships are no longer invited to them, and the development of actions to ensure air and anti — submarine defense and amphibious landings-typical naval combat operations-has come to the fore.

The scenario announced this year includes a large-scale coastal component and simulates a multinational mission to stabilize the situation in Ukraine and confront illegal armed groups supported by a neighboring state, no one particularly hides that Russia is meant by it.

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For obvious reasons, the Russian Armed Forces followed these exercises very closely. And as it turned out, not in vain! The sea was patrolled by Russian warships, and Russian fighter jets were constantly in the sky.

As expected in Moscow, the NATO ships made several attempts to arrange provocations. Two warships-HNLMS Evertsen from Dutch Navy and the British HMS Defender tried to violate the territorial waters of Russia near the Crimea, referring to the fact that this is the territory of Ukraine. As you know, the West does not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Precisely, under this pretext, these dangerous maneuvers were carried out.

Russia reacted harshly. Under the threat of opening fire, foreign vessels had to leave the territorial waters of Russia. However, neither London nor Amsterdam admitted that this was a provocation.

According to the special representative of the NATO Secretary General for the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, the North Atlantic Alliance will remain in the Black Sea region to support its allies and partners.

"NATO has a clear position when it comes to freedom of navigation and the fact that Crimea is Ukraine, not Russia. During the incident with HMS Defender, NATO allies showed firmness in defending these principles, " Appathurai said.

In turn, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said that British warships "will continue to enter the territorial waters of Ukraine." He called the route followed by the intruder destroyer the shortest international route from Odessa to Georgian Batumi.

"We have every right to freely pass through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international standards. We will continue to do so, " the high-ranking official stressed.

Moscow said that it would not allow such incidents in the future, and if necessary, it is ready to apply the "toughest and most extreme measures" to violators, although such a scenario is presented by Kremlin as "extremely undesirable" for Russia.

Many experts both in Russia and in the West immediately started talking about the potential threat of the 3rd World War, which in fact can flare up because of Ukraine. It is obvious that such forecasts are not beneficial to anyone: neither NATO nor Russia. Nevertheless, a belligerent and resolute attitude remains on both sides, which cannot but cause fear and concern among ordinary people.

Even after the end of Sea Breeze 2021, NATO continues to declare that they will not leave the Black Sea anywhere. This is already confirmed by the sending of new ships to the region.

Nevertheless, the question remains open: is the North Atlantic Alliance ready to take extreme measures against Russia under the pretext of protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which is still persistently denied admission to NATO?

coronavirus

Will Russian vaccines against COVID-19 be recognized in the EU?

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It is no secret that Russia is one of the first countries on the planet to have developed vaccines against COVID-19 and is already actively using one them (there are at least four different vaccines being now produced in Russia) - Sputnik V, which has received recognition in numerous countries on all continents as well. But so far this has not happened in the EU, where initially the drug from Russia was perceived with suspicion. And although authoritative medical and research sources have long recognized the effectiveness of Sputnik V, which is also produced under license in a number of countries, Europe is not in a hurry to approve the vaccine, setting up a possible positive solution with various conditions and reservations, writes Alexi Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

As usual, politics also intervened in the matter. Sputnik V was declared in some European capitals as "Putin's secret ideological weapon" and even a medicine that allegedly undermines the authority of Western manufacturers. There were also scandals, as happened in Slovakia, where a government crisis broke out because of a Russian drug. But there were also other states on the continent that did not wait for approval from Brussels and decided to use Sputnik V. For example, Hungary, where the Russian vaccine is being tried on along with other drugs. Tiny San Marino also decided to use Sputnik V, having received very positive results. But in a number of countries - Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, the Russian vaccine is under the strictest ban, mainly based on political considerations.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of approval from the European Medicines Agency, Russian tourists vaccinated with vaccines of Russia production are still banned from entering Europe, which invariably affects the dramatic decline in tourism in the first place.

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Moscow, however, is not inclined to dramatize the situation and is determined to wait until Europe is ready to give the "green light" to drugs from Russia.

The Russian Ministry of Health with the support of the Foreign Ministry is conducting a substantive professional conversation with the European Union on the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates, said the head of the Russian diplomacy Sergey Lavrov.

"There seems to be a political will demonstrated, recited. Certain technical and legal issues are being resolved, including the need to ensure the protection of personal data, to ensure the technological compatibility of procedures," the minister said in one of the comments.

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The Minister stressed that Moscow is ready to continue a pragmatic dialogue and expects that there will be no delays on the European side "with a sign of politicization."

In the European Union, since July 1, a system of COVID certificates has been operating, which are issued to those who are vaccinated or who have been ill, as well as those who have passed a negative PCR test.

The legislation allows the European Commission to recognize the equivalence of documents issued in other countries. So, in August 2021, this happened with the immunization passports that are issued in San Marino, where the Russian Sputnik V vaccine is available.

At the same time, it has not yet been registered in the countries of the union: the drug has been undergoing a gradual examination procedure at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) since March 2021. The head of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the supplier has not yet provided "sufficiently reliable security data", although Moscow claims that all the documents are already at the disposal of the regulator.

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Alexei Navalny'

Close ally of Kremlin critic Navalny leaves Russia amid crackdown - media

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Lyubov Sobol, a Russian opposition figure and a close ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, speaks with journalists after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

Lyubov Sobol (pictured), a prominent ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, has left Russia days after being sentenced to parole-like restrictions amid a crackdown on the opposition, Russia's RT and REN TV channels cited sources as saying on Sunday (8 August), write Tom Balmforth, Anton Zverev, Maria Tsvetkova and Olzhas Auyezov, Reuters.

Sobol could not be reached for comment. Her allies declined to speak on her behalf. The outlets said she had flown to Turkey on Saturday (7 August) evening. The chief editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station also said she had left the country.

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The 33-year-old is one of the most well-known faces of Navalny's entourage. She stayed behind in Moscow this year as other close political allies fled fearing prosecution ahead of September's parliamentary elections.

Sobol was sentenced to 1-1/2 years of parole-like restrictions on Tuesday for flouting COVID-19 curbs on protests, a charge she called politically-motivated nonsense. The restrictions included not being allowed to leave home at night. Read more.

After the ruling, she said on Ekho Moskvy radio station that the sentence had not yet come into force and that the restrictions were not effective. "Essentially, you can interpret this as the possibility of leaving the country," she said.

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Navalny's allies have faced mounting pressure. This week a June court ruling formally came into force outlawing the nationwide activist network built up by Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's fiercest domestic opponent, as "extremist".

Navalny himself is serving 2-1/2 years in jail for parole violations in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up.

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Moscow

Russia can be a democracy

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“The EU's strategy towards Russia needs to combine two major objectives: stop the Kremlin’s external aggression and internal repression and, at the same time, engage with the Russians and assist them in building a democratic future,” said Andrius Kubilius MEP, author of a European Parliament Report on the future of political relations with Russia, which will be voted on today (15 July) in the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

The report calls on the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell to prepare a comprehensive strategy for its relations with Russia, consistent with the EU’s fundamental values and principles.

“The EU and its Institutions have to change their mind-set and work on the assumption that Russia can be a democracy. We need more courage to take a strong stance vis-à-vis the Kremlin regime on defending human rights and democratic principles. It is about ending domestic repressions, supporting free and independent media, freeing all political prisoners and strengthening the neighbouring Eastern Partnership countries. Having a stable and democratic Russia, instead of an aggressive and expansionist Kremlin will be a benefit to everyone,” added Kubilius.

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As Chair of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, which groups together six countries of the Eastern Partnership (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), Kubilius points in particular to the importance of the legislative elections in Russia foreseen for September. “If the opposition candidates are not allowed to run, the EU must be prepared to not recognise the parliament of Russia and to consider asking for Russia’s suspension from international parliamentary assemblies,” he concluded.

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