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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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Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's website blocked by regulator before election

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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, 29 February 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

Russian authorities blocked access to jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's (pictured) website on Monday (26 July) in the run-up to a parliamentary election, their latest attempt to sideline his allies cast by the Kremlin as U.S.-backed trouble-makers, write Maxim Rodionov, Alexander Marrow, Olzhas Auyezov, Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin.

The move, the latest chapter in a long-running crackdown on President Vladimir Putin's most prominent domestic opponent, also blocked the websites inside Russia of 48 other individuals and organisations affiliated with Navalny.

Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor said in a statement to Reuters it had acted to block navalny.com -- one of the Navalny's movement's main websites -- and the others at the request of the prosecutor general.

A Russian court last month ruled that organisations linked to Navalny were "extremist" based on allegations from Moscow's top prosecutor who said they were trying to foment a revolution by seeking to destabilise the socio-political situation inside Russia, a charge they denied.

The ruling in effect outlawed them and prevented Navalny's allies from taking part in September's election to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Roskomnadzor said the sites it had blocked had been helping the movements covered by the court ban to distribute propaganda and continue illegal activities.

Condemning the move, Navalny's team said on social media it expected the authorities would soon target its so-called smart voting website, which advises peoples how to vote tactically in September to try to unseat candidates from the ruling United Russia party.

It also said its resources on YouTube, where it posts investigations into alleged corruption among Russia's ruling elite, were under pressure.

Google did not immediately respond when asked if Roskomnadzor had asked it to remove Navalny-related material and how it might deal with such a request. Google Inc.'s Alphabet (GOOGL.O) owns YouTube.

Maria Pevchikh, who has worked on some of Navalny's most high-profile investigations, said that the move by the Russian authorities had targeted the sites of individual Navalny allies, those of now defunct campaign headquarters, as well as sites designed to expose corruption in sectors like road building.

"They have blocked all sites linked to us," Pevchikh wrote on Twitter. "They have simply decided to purge us from the Russian Internet."

Navalny allies highlighted which of their websites still functioned and urged people to download their smart voting application.

Navalny, Putin's most prominent domestic critic, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations that he says were trumped up. His jailing has increased strains in Russia's relations with the West, which has called for him to be freed.

The United States and Britain have condemned the measures against Navalny's allies as an unfounded blow to the Russian political opposition.

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Putin says Russian navy can carry out 'unpreventable strike' if needed

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The Russian navy can detect any enemy and launch an "unpreventable strike" if needed, President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday (25 July), weeks after a UK warship angered Moscow by passing the Crimea peninsula, writes Andrey Ostroukh, Reuters.

"We are capable of detecting any underwater, above-water, airborne enemy and, if required, carry out an unpreventable strike against it," Putin said speaking at a navy day parade in St. Petersburg.

Putin's words follow an incident in the Black Sea in June when Russia said it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of Crimea waters.

Russian Navy's warships are seen ready for the Navy Day parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 25, 2021. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Nikolai Yevmenov attend the Navy Day parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 25, 2021. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend the Navy Day parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 25, 2021. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

Britain rejected Russia's account of the incident, saying it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian "gunnery exercise", and that no bombs had been dropped.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 but Britain and most of the world recognise the Black Sea peninsula as part of Ukraine, not Russia.

Putin said last month Russia could have sunk the British warship HMS Defender, that it accused of illegally entering its territorial waters, without starting World War Three and said the United States played a role in the "provocation". Read more.

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Push to get wary Russians vaccinated leaves some COVID clinics short

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People line up to receive vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination centre in the ZZZed club in Vladimir, Russia July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Polina Nikolskaya

Alexander tried three times over 10 days to get his first dose of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in his home town of Vladimir. Twice, supplies ran out as he was standing in the queue, writes Polina Nikolskaya.

"People line up from 4 a.m. although the centre opens at 10 a.m.," the 33-year-old said, as he finally entered the walk-in vaccination room in the town, where gold-domed medieval churches attract crowds of tourists in normal years.

A third wave of COVID-19 infections has lifted reported daily deaths in Russia to record highs in recent weeks and sluggish demand for vaccines from a wary population has finally begun to grow with a big official push to boost uptake.

The switch poses a challenge for Russia, which has signed contracts to supply Sputnik V to countries around the world.

With vaccination now compulsory in some Russian regions for people working in jobs involving close contact with the public such as waiters and taxi drivers, shortages have appeared.

"At the last minute we all decided to get vaccinated at the same time," Maria Koltunova, a representative of the Vladimir regional health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor told reporters on July 16. "This has caused a problem."

Late last month, after several Russian regions reported shortages of the vaccine, the Kremlin blamed them on growing demand and storage difficulties which it said would be resolved in the coming days. Read more.

At the appointment desks of four clinics in different towns in the wider Vladimir region last week, Reuters was told that no shots were available at this time. The earliest appointments available were next month, all said they could not give a date.

The industry ministry said it was working with the health ministry to close the demand gap in places where it had jumped. The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Russia is producing 30 million sets of doses per month, the industry ministry said, and can gradually scale that up to a monthly figure of 45-40 million doses over the next few months.

Overall, almost 44 million full doses of all vaccines have been released for the vaccination of Russia's 144 million people, the industry minister said last week.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered the government on Monday to check what vaccines were available.

The country does not provide data for vaccine exports and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, declined to comment.

A laboratory in India said last week the country's full rollout would have to be put on hold until the Russia producer provides equal quantities of its two doses, which are different sizes. Read more.

Argentina and Guatemala have also reported delays to promised supplies. Read more.

Despite launching its vaccine rollout in January and approving four homegrown vaccines for domestic use, Russia had given only around 21% of its entire population one shot by July 9, according to data provided by health minister Mikhail Murashko, although counting only adults, that would be higher.

The Kremlin earlier cited ‘nihilism’ among the population; some Russians have cited distrust, both of new drugs and government programmes.

UNDER PRESSURE

Around 12% of the 1.4 million people in the Vladimir region 200 km (125 miles) east of Moscow had been vaccinated by July 12, data provided by local officials showed. Some people said the sudden uptick in demand for shots was due to a spate of government policies.

These included a week-long regional requirement to prove vaccination against, or recent recovery from, COVID-19 with QR codes to enter cafes and other venues. The policy was cancelled amid an outcry from business and shortages of vaccine. read more

The region also ordered some public sector and service sector businesses to inoculate at least 60% of their employees with one dose by August 15. Cafe owners Dmitry Bolshakov and Alexander Yuriev said oral recommendations came earlier.

Third-time lucky vaccine recipient Alexander, who gave only his first name due to the sensitivity of the issue, said he had queued for the shot of his own accord after his local clinic said it could not offer one until late August.

But nine out of 12 people approached by Reuters at the city’s vaccination centres said they did not want to be vaccinated but had been pressured by their employers. The local governor's office and the health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In one Vladimir café called ZZZed, owner Yuriev had, along with officials, set up a centre for vaccinations, starting with the city’s restaurant workers. People filled out their consent forms sitting at the bar, under a disco ball.

"We have a queue now of about 1,000 people," Yuriev said. With demand up, shortages of shots are the next obstacle. "We are limited by the lack of vaccines in the region," he said.

The acting head of the local health watchdog, Yulia Potselueva, told reporters on July 16 that the problem of vaccine supply would be solved in the near future.

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