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Head of the AfD Frauke Petry meets with Russian officials in Moscow

The head of Germany's populist party AfD has met with high-level Russian politicians in a secretive meeting in Moscow. Petry's office refused to clarify who else attended the talks. Frauke Petry, the prominent co-chair of Germany's nationalist AfD party, met with senior Russian politicians in Moscow at the weekend. In a statement issued on Monday, the office of the populist politician said she traveled to Moscow to discuss cooperation between German and Russian regional assemblies. She also met "on the sidelines" with Duma speaker and Putin confidant Vyacheslav Volodin as well as deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy. Volodin, President Vladmir Putin's former chief of staff, is widely seen as one of Russia's most influential officials, helping direct parliament's work and engineering elections. Tolstoy is well known for hosting a number of political talk shows on Russia's state-owned Channel One. The great-great-grandson of novelist Leo Tolstoy holds pro-Kremlin views and has been criticized by the country's opposition for airing misinformation and propaganda on his programs, particularly about Ukraine and the West. Duma statement A statement released by the Duma said the delegation traveled to Russia at the invitation of Moscow. "During the meeting they discussed issues of cooperation between regional parliaments, inter-party cooperation, as well as the development of contacts for youth organizations," the Duma statement said. The Duma said the meeting was attended by Tolstoy, the vice speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament Vladimir Zhirinovsky, chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky, and Paul Zavalny, the chairman of the State Duma Energy Committee and the coordinator of the parliamentary group for relations with the Parliament of Germany. Zhirinovsky is a flamboyant ultranationalist leader of the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia known for populist, nationalist rhetoric. The AfD and Moscow Petry's office did not confirm who took else took part in the delegation but according to party travel information seen by German press agency dpa, Julian Flak, chair of the AfD's "Bundeskonvent," an executive committee dealing with organizational, policy and financial strategy, also went to Moscow. There is no evidence that Russia financially supports AfD, unlike France's far-right National Front, but the AfD and other populist groups forged closer ties with Moscow in recent months and its politicians are often cited by Russian media outlets such as Russia Today (RT), the Kremlin-backed TV channel which has operated a German website for the past two years. A leaked report by Germany's secret services into potential Russian subversion of Germany's democracy found little evidence that the Kremlin was directly trying to manipulate the country's public opinion. But the report suggested that indirect methods may be at work finding "possible Russian influence attempts" being made towards the AfD. The AfD enjoyed an upswing of support in recent state elections and expects considerable support in September's federal elections, although it has been hit with political infighting in recent months.

The head of Germany’s populist party AfD has met with high-level Russian politicians in a secretive meeting in Moscow. Petry’s office refused to clarify who else attended the talks. Frauke Petry, the prominent co-chair of Germany’s nationalist AfD party, met with senior Russian politicians in Moscow at the weekend. In a statement issued on Monday, the office of the populist ... Read More »

Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin dies aged 64

Russia's foreign ministry has announced the sudden death of Moscow's long-time UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The 64-year-old had been Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006. In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said the country's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had "unexpectedly" died in New York. "The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at his work post," the statement said. The ministry gave no details on the circumstances of his death but offered condolences to his relatives and said the diplomat had died one day before his 65th birthday. Churkin has been Russia's envoy at the United Nations for a little over a decade and was considered Moscow's great champion at the UN. Previously he worked at the foreign ministry in Moscow, served as an envoy to Canada (1998-2003), Belgium (1994-1998) and as a special representative to the talks on former Yugoslavia (1992-1994). 'Pillar of the UNSC' Tributes to the ambassador soon followed the announcement of his death. The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin was grieving after learning of Churkin's death. "The head of state highly valued Churkin's professionalism and diplomatic talent," Peskov said, adding that the president had expressed his condolences to Churkin's loved ones. Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general's office, said: "He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government." Meanwhile, the UK Mission to the United Nations tweeted: "Vitaly Churkin was a pillar of the [UN Security Council] for over a decade. Our deepest condolences to his family [and] colleagues..." Churkin was a pugnacious defender of Russian policy, most notably its intensive bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to crush rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. When then-US envoy to the UN Samantha Power accused Syria, Russia and Iran last year of bearing responsibility for atrocities there, Churkin said she was acting like Mother Teresa and forgetting her own country's track record in the Middle East. On hearing of her counterpart's death, Power said was "devastated," describing Churkin as a "diplomatic maestro." He was a "deeply caring man" who tried to bridge differences between the US and Russia, she added. Power's successor Nikki Haley - who took up the post last month - also offered her condolences, saying that Churkin "showed himself to be a gracious colleague." "We did not always see things the same way," she added. "But he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill."

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced the sudden death of Moscow’s long-time UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The 64-year-old had been Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006. In a statement on Monday, the Russian foreign ministry said the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had “unexpectedly” died in New York. “The outstanding Russian diplomat passed away at ... Read More »

Germany: ‘Unacceptable’ that Russia accepts separatist Ukraine passports

France and Germany have condemned the Kremlin's decision to accept passports issued by authorities controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile, a new ceasefire deal is going into effect in Eastern Ukraine. Germany's government on Monday said that Russia's decision to recognize passports issued by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine "contradicts everything that was agreed in Minsk and is therefore unacceptable," referring to the Minsk Agreement seeking an end to the conflict in Ukraine. "The recognition of travel documents of the self-declared, so-called People's Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk undermines the unity of Ukraine," said Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian authorities on Saturday to recognize civil registration documents issued in separatist-held regions Lugansk and Donetsk, a decision that Kyiv called a "provocation." 'France regrets this decision' France's foreign ministry on Monday also called Russia's new policy unacceptable and against the spirit of the Minsk peace accord, saying that "France regrets this decision." Paris said it wanted Moscow to use its influence over the separatists to ensure application of the terms of the Minsk peace deal, saying: "It is the only way of ensuring a lasting solution to the crisis in east Ukraine," the foreign ministry statement said. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday called the decision was a humanitarian move, meant to help struggling residents in the rebel regions facing transport blockades imposed by Ukrainian nationalist volunteer battalions. People with papers issued by separatists are now allowed to travel to Russia without a visa. The Kremlin said the decree issued by President Putin was only "temporary" until a "political solution" based on the Minsk accords could be found for eastern Ukraine. Authorities in counties held by separatists started issuing their own passports roughly a year ago. These documents closely resemble Russian passports, bearing a two-headed eagle on a red backdrop. Ten thousand killed since 2014 Since pro-Russian rebels revolted against Kyiv's newly-installed pro-Western government in early 2014, the armed conflict in Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking East has cost some 10,000 lives. In 2015, Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists signed on the so-called Minsk peace agreement. The sparring parties were meant to withdraw heavy weaponry from the frontline to create a buffer zone in order to bring peace to the region. BothUkrainian and separatist troops have repeatedly broken the agreement since then. In recent weeks, fighting escalated in the region, with some areas experiencing the heaviest artillery fire of the past two years, refocusing global attention on the simmering conflict that - along with the crisis in Syria - has strained the relationship between Russia and most Western countries. This prompted Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to call for renewed efforts to implement the much-violated Minsk deal. At the Munich Security Conference, a deal was brokered over the weekend, obligating both parties to cease fire and withdraw weapons from the frontline starting on Monday. As of Monday morning, both Ukrainian troops and separatists said that the other side was complying with the agreement.

France and Germany have condemned the Kremlin’s decision to accept passports issued by authorities controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile, a new ceasefire deal is going into effect in Eastern Ukraine. Germany’s government on Monday said that Russia’s decision to recognize passports issued by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine “contradicts everything that was agreed in Minsk and is therefore unacceptable,” referring ... Read More »

US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigns over Russian ties

White House national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned from his position over his contact with the Russian ambassador to the US. He reportedly misled officials on whether he discussed sanctions with the envoy. US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned late Monday night in the midst of a raging controversy over his phone calls with Russian officials, the White House confirmed. Reports emerged that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials about his conversations with Russia prior to Trump taking office. In his resignation letter, Flynn said he held several calls with the Russian ambassador in Washington during Trump's transition to the White House and that he gave "incomplete information" to Pence about those discussions. "Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador," Flynn said in the letter. Possibly illegal calls Flynn told Pence that he had not discussed US sanctions against Russia issued by then-President Barack Obama with Russian officials in the weeks leading up to Trump's inauguration. This led Pence to defend Flynn in numerous television interviews. In recent days, Flynn acknowledged that he might have discussed sanctions with the Russians but could not say with 100 percent certainty. According to a "Washington Post" report from last week, Flynn reportedly discussed lifting sanctions aginst Moscow with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 29 - the same day that Obama issued them over Russian interference in the US presidential campaign. The conversations were revealed in intercepted transcripts, described previously by US officials, that showed that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. The talks potentially violated the Logan Act, a law banning private citizens from engaging in diplomacy with foreign officials. Michael McFaul, a former US ambassodor to Moscow, said on Twitter that what got Flynn into trouble was misleading Pence. Blackmail threat Reports also emerged on Monday that the Justice Department warned the Trump administration weeks ago that Flynn misled officials about the nature and content of the calls, sources told the Associated Press. Then-acting US Attorney General Sally Yates said Flynn might have put himself in a compromising position and possibly left himself open to blackmail with the phone calls. Yates was later fired from her post for opposing Trump's entry ban for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump named retired Lt. General Keith Kellogg to replace Flynn as acting national security adviser but it is unclear if he will remain in the post.

White House national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned from his position over his contact with the Russian ambassador to the US. He reportedly misled officials on whether he discussed sanctions with the envoy. US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned late Monday night in the midst of a raging controversy over his phone calls with Russian ... Read More »

US intelligence report: Putin ‘ordered’ targeted involvement in US election

A new US intel report has found that Putin "ordered" a hacking campaign aimed at harming Hillary Clinton's electability. The report also found the Russian government showed a "clear preference" for Donald Trump. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a media manipulation and hacking campaign targeting the 2016 US presidential election, according to a declassified version of a US intelligence report that was released on Friday. The report found that the Russian government specifically targeted Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton with the goal of harming her presidential campaign. "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency," said the report from the Director of National Intelligence. The report also alleges that Putin had a personal grudge against Clinton, blaming her for stoking 2011 protests against his rule while she was secretary of state. Intelligence officials released a 25-page public version of the report on Friday after briefing President Barack Obama, President-elect Donald Trump and top US lawmakers with a longer, classified version. The report also found that Putin and the Russian government "developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump." However, the intelligence agency noted that it did not assess the impact of Russian meddling on the outcome of the US election. Trump defended the legitimacy of his election victory on Friday following his two-hour intelligence briefing with intelligence officials on the results of the Russian meddling report. Ties to WikiLeaks Additionally, intelligence officials said that they believe "with high confidence" that the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, used intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0 to release emails it acquired from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). An annex to the report noted that when US intelligence assigns "high confidence" to an allegation, the information is based on "high-quality information from multiple sources." However, the sources and methods of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) are protected in the report, which may not convince skeptics. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied that a "state party" provided him with stolen emails from the DNC and from top Clinton aide John Podesta. Assange did not rule out the possibility that the emails came from a third party. Russia has repeatedly denied the US government's accusations of hacking during the 2016 election campaign. Trump promises 'aggressive' action Following release of the public report, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told reporters that Trump will act against cyber hacking once he takes office. "The president-elect has made it very clear that we are going to take aggressive action in the early days of our administration to combat cyber attacks and protect the American people from this type of intrusion in the future," Pence said outside of Trump Tower. The much-anticipated report is likely to further agitate the debate over the outcome of an election in which Clinton won the popular vote but was beaten by Trump in the electoral college.

A new US intel report has found that Putin “ordered” a hacking campaign aimed at harming Hillary Clinton’s electability. The report also found the Russian government showed a “clear preference” for Donald Trump. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a media manipulation and hacking campaign targeting the 2016 US presidential election, according to a declassified version of a US intelligence report ... Read More »

Rebel groups in Syria suspend talks about peace negotiations

Syrian rebel groups have announced they are suspending talks about planned peace negotiations this month in the Kazakh capital, Astana. The rebels have blamed "violations" of the four-day old ceasefire deal. After what rebels have described as "violations" of the current ceasefire, 10 non-jihadi rebel groups said Monday they have refused to participate in further talks about planned peace negotiations with the Syrian government. "The regime and its allies have continued firing and committed many and large violations," read the statement, which was signed mostly by rebel groups under the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella. The statement continued by saying the "worst violations" were in an area northwest of Damascus in rebel-held Wadi Barada valley. Syrian government forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah group have been trying to make advances in an ongoing campaign. The Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah made it to the outskirts of Ain al-Fijeh on Monday, which has the primary drinking water source for the area, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Peace talks in doubt? The ceasefire, which was agreed to by Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the conflict, has been in place since midnight Friday. Rebel groups have denied violating the agreement, which was on shaky ground from the beginning, with Russia supporting Syrian government forces and Turkey backing the rebels. Peace talks were set to take place in the Kazakh capital, Astana, later in January. More than 300,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria, which has lasted for nearly six years. Over half of Syria's population has been displaced, including millions who have fled abroad becoming refugees.

Syrian rebel groups have announced they are suspending talks about planned peace negotiations this month in the Kazakh capital, Astana. The rebels have blamed “violations” of the four-day old ceasefire deal. After what rebels have described as “violations” of the current ceasefire, 10 non-jihadi rebel groups said Monday they have refused to participate in further talks about planned peace negotiations ... Read More »

Trump doubts Russia involved in hacking United States election

US President-elect Donald Trump once again said Russia was not involved in hacking the US presidential election. Trump also said he was open to meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. US President-elect Donald Trump again denied Russia hacked the US presidential election before celebrating New Year at his Florida estate. "Well I just want them to be sure, because it's a pretty serious charge, and I want them to be sure," said Trump. Trump added US intelligence was incorrect when it said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, a part of what lead to a US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He called the invasion "a disaster, and they were wrong." Trump said it was unfair to accuse Russia of hacking if there is doubt, saying he knows "a lot about hacking" and "it could be somebody else." "I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation," said Trump, telling reporters they would find out Tuesday or Wednesday what he knew about hacking. US intelligence agencies CIA and FBI agree that Russia intervened in the November US presidential election. Trump secured the electoral college vote, while Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for vowing not to expel US diplomats after the US expelled 35 last week. Hacking during the campaign hit the Democratic party hard, and the party blamed Russia for an attack in August. Trump noted he was open to meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The two exchanged a controversial phone call after Trump's victory, breaking more than three decades of the "one-China" policy. "I'm not meeting with anybody until after January 20th because it's a little bit inappropriate from a protocol standpoint. But we'll see," said Trump, who becomes president on January 20. As for his New Year's resolution, he harped his campaign slogan: Make America great again.

US President-elect Donald Trump once again said Russia was not involved in hacking the US presidential election. Trump also said he was open to meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. US President-elect Donald Trump again denied Russia hacked the US presidential election before celebrating New Year at his Florida estate. “Well I just want them to be sure, because it’s ... Read More »

UN Security Council welcomes Syria truce

The UN has approved a Russia-drafted resolution supporting a shaky but functioning ceasefire in Syria. The measure calls for immediate and speedy access for humanitarian workers to the country's hardest-hit areas. The United Nations Security Council unanimously backed a ceasefire deal for Syria on Saturday, though Western members included language that dropped any direct endorsement of the Russia-Turkey brokered truce. According to reports, the deal was largely holding despite opposition forces accusing government troops of minor violations. Under the Moscow-penned resolution, a transitional government would be put in place to bring the country out of nearly six years of bitter war. The Syrian conflict has not only caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold destruction, but the multi-sided war also led to the creation of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group. The proposal also demands that humanitarian aid workers are given immediate and safe access to the many civilian populations in desperate need of food, water and medical care. Clashes continue Moscow and Ankara have also announced plans to host talks between moderate opposition groups and representatives of President Bashar al-Assad in the Kazakh capital of Astana in January. This is to be followed by talks in Geneva held by UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mistura. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, small clashes continued to break out between rebel fighters and regime soldiers in the Wadi Barada region near Damascus. A collective of rebel groups warned that the truce will be "null and void" if the violations continue. Although the warplanes that carried out the strikes in Wadi Barada have not been identified, the government has accused rebels in that area of tampering with water pipelines headed to the capital. The ceasefire excludes extremist groups like "IS" and the Fatah al-Sham Front, and Turkish airstrikes against their positions continued on Saturday in northern Syria. The Turkish military has also been operating on the ground in Syria since August, and in recent days has launched a push to retake the city of al-Bab from "IS".

The UN has approved a Russia-drafted resolution supporting a shaky but functioning ceasefire in Syria. The measure calls for immediate and speedy access for humanitarian workers to the country’s hardest-hit areas. The United Nations Security Council unanimously backed a ceasefire deal for Syria on Saturday, though Western members included language that dropped any direct endorsement of the Russia-Turkey brokered truce. ... Read More »

Russian anti-doping agency slams ‘NYT’ conspiracy report

Russia has criticized a major US media outlet over a report in which it quoted one its anti-doping agency officials as admitting that a conspiracy to dope in the country existed. It said her words had been distorted. Russia's anti-doping agency, RUSADA, said in a statement posted on its English-language website on Wednesday that in an interview with "The New York Times" published one day earlier, its acting director general, Anna Antseliovich, had been "misquoted and her words were taken out of the context." It went on to say that in the interview that Antseliovich had given to the newspaper, she had merely pointed out that in his second report on doping in Russia, published on December 9, Canadian sports lawyer had not used the words "state-sponsored system of doping" as he had in his first report, but instead used the words "institutional conspiracy." This, the RUSADA statement said, meant that McLaren, whose investigations were commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), had excluded "potential involvement of the top country officials." It went on to say that by taking the official's words of context, "The New York Times" had created the impression the RUSADA had admitted to the existence of an international doping conspiracy and cover-up in Russia, something that it had "no authority to admit or deny." The Kremlin also questioned the authenticity of the quotes, with its spokesman "categorically" denying such doping allegations. "First time admission" In its article, which was datelined Moscow, "The New York Times" reported that "for the first time" Russia had conceded that officials had used the program to cheat, and it quoted Astseliovich as saying "it was an institutional conspiracy." However, she and others interviewed denied that doping in Russia was "state sponsored" and stressed that it was conducted without the approval or knowledge of President Vladimir Putin. In his first report, released in July, McLaren said Russia had put in place a well-organized scheme to manipulate tests of Russian athlete's samples ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. That report led WADA to recommend that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ban all Russian athletes from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. However, the IOC declined to issue a blanket ban, choosing instead to leave it up to the governing bodies of the individual sports to decide whether Russian athletes would be allowed to compete. Since the second report, the IOC has opened 28 disciplinary proceedings against Russian athletes whose urine samples thought to have been tampered with in Sochi. Russia has also lost the right to host next year's bobsleigh and skeleton world championships, a biathlon World Cup round that was to have been held in February, as well as a World Cup speedskating event scheduled for March.

Russia has criticized a major US media outlet over a report in which it quoted one its anti-doping agency officials as admitting that a conspiracy to dope in the country existed. It said her words had been distorted. Russia’s anti-doping agency, RUSADA, said in a statement posted on its English-language website on Wednesday that in an interview with “The New ... Read More »

US to announce retaliatory measures against Russia over election hacks

Several reports have said the Obama administration plans to announce retaliatory measures against Russia for allegedly interfering in the US election. Moscow has said it will retaliate should measures be approved. The outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama is set to implement a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for its alleged meddling in the US election, several reports said Wednesday. The announcement could be made as soon as Thursday, reported the Reuters news agency, citing two US officials. "The Washington Post" cited its sources as saying the measures could include economic sanctions, diplomatic censure and possibly cyber operations. The names of people tied to a Russian disinformation campaign that allegedly targeted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign may also be released, CNN reported. One decision that has been finalized is to avoid any moves that exceed the Russian election hacking and risk an escalating cyber conflict, the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity. US officials said the point of the retaliatory steps was not to punish, but to deter similar cyberattacks or actions in the future. Three US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was behind hacks into the Democratic Party and leaked documents ahead of the November 8 presidential election. The agencies also agree that Russia sought to intervene to help President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican candidates into office. Russia calls move a 'provocation' Following news of Washington's planned announcement, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman promised Moscow would retaliate in the event of new economic sanctions. "To be honest, we are tired of lie about the 'Russian hackers,' which is being poured down in the United States from the very top," said spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. She also called the reports a "provocation directed by the White House." Both Russia and Trump have denied and dismissed the US intelligence reports. Two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, called for even harsher action against Russia in remarks made to Fox News. Along with increasing economic sanctions, McCain also pushed for a permanent US military presence in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and for arming Ukraine with weapons. The Obama administration already warned Russia via diplomatic channels prior to November's election. One week before the election, Washington used a special crisis communication channel for the first time to send a message to Moscow, asking it to stop targeting state voter registration and election systems. US officials said Russia apparently complied after receiving the message.

Several reports have said the Obama administration plans to announce retaliatory measures against Russia for allegedly interfering in the US election. Moscow has said it will retaliate should measures be approved. The outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama is set to implement a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for its alleged meddling in the US election, several reports ... Read More »

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