Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia

Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia
Steam rises from chimneys of a heating power plan over the skyline of central Moscow, Russia. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia

Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia
  • Since its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has imposed a number of restrictions on foreigners from what it calls “unfriendly countries”

Russia’s Internal Affairs ministry is preparing a bill that would oblige foreigners entering the country to sign a “loyalty agreement” that would bar them from discrediting official policies, the TASS state news agency reported early on Wednesday.
The agreement would be aimed at protecting Russia’s “national interests,” TASS reported, citing the document.
A foreigner entering Russia would be prohibited from “interfering with the activities of public authorities of the Russian Federation, discrediting in any form the foreign and domestic state policy of the Russian Federation, public authorities and their officials.”
Reuters could not independently verify the draft bill. The Internal Affairs ministry did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.
Since its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has imposed a number of restrictions on foreigners from what it calls “unfriendly countries” — meaning those that have imposed sanctions on it over its war in Ukraine.
The internal affairs draft bill provides that foreigners would be prohibited from disparaging or inciting the denial of “significant moral” values, such as marriage as a union of a man and a woman, family, as well as from disseminating propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships.
Distortion of the “historical truth” about the Soviet people’s defense of the country and its contribution to the victory over fascist Germany in World War Two would also be prohibited, TASS reported.
TASS did not specify what repercussions foreigners would face if they broke the agreement.
For the draft to become law, the document has to be introduced to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, and go through committee review and several readings before being submitted to President Vladimir Putin for signing.


Alexei Navalny’s mother files lawsuit with a Russian court demanding release of her son’s body

Alexei Navalny’s mother files lawsuit with a Russian court demanding release of her son’s body
Updated 21 February 2024
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Alexei Navalny’s mother files lawsuit with a Russian court demanding release of her son’s body

Alexei Navalny’s mother files lawsuit with a Russian court demanding release of her son’s body
  • A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4
  • Lyudmila Navalnaya has been trying to retrieve her son’s body since Saturday

MOSCOW: The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has filed a lawsuit at a court in the Arctic city of Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release her son’s body, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported Wednesday.
A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4, the report said, quoting court officials.
Lyudmila Navalnaya has been trying to retrieve her son’s body since Saturday, following his death in a penal colony in Russia’s far north a day earlier. She has been unable to find out where his body is being held, Navalny’s team reported.
On Wednesday, Navalnaya laid flowers and a picture of her son at a monument dedicated to journalists in Salekhard, close to the prison where Navalny died. Floral tributes that Navalnaya had left a day earlier at the town’s memorial to the victims of repression had been cleared away overnight, while several police officers continued to keep watch close to the monument.
Navalnaya appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday to release her son’s remains so that she could bury him with dignity.
“For the fifth day, I have been unable to see him. They wouldn’t release his body to me. And they’re not even telling me where he is,” a black-clad Navalnaya, 69, said in the video, with the barbed wire of Penal Colony No. 3 in Kharp, about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.
“I’m reaching out to you, Vladimir Putin. The resolution of this matter depends solely on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body is released immediately, so that I can bury him like a human being,” she said in the video, which was posted to social media by Navalny’s team.
Russian authorities have said the cause of Navalny’s death is still unknown and refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, members of Navalny’s team said.
They accused the government of stalling to try to hide evidence. On Monday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia, released a video accusing Putin of killing her husband and alleged the refusal to release his body was part of a cover-up.
“They are cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably,” she said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations of a cover-up, telling reporters that “these are absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state.”
Navalny’s death has deprived the Russian opposition of its best-known and inspiring politician less than a month before an election that is all but certain to give Putin another six years in power. Many Russians had seen Navalny as a rare hope for political change amid Putin’s unrelenting crackdown on the opposition.
Since Navalny’s death, about 400 people have been detained across in Russia as they tried to pay tribute to him with flowers and candles, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests. Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials to victims of Soviet repression across the country that were being used as sites to leave makeshift tributes to Navalny. Police removed the flowers at night, but more keep appearing.
Several men who were detained at memorials to Navalny were also ordered to report to their local army recruitment office, where Russian authorities are actively recruiting volunteer soldiers and updating records of men eligible for service, according to Go by the Forest, an activist group helping Russians to avoid military service.
Peskov said police were acting “in accordance with the law” by detaining people paying tribute to Navalny.
Over 75,000 people have submitted requests to the government asking for Navalny’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.


Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift

Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift
Updated 21 February 2024
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Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift

Lula meets Blinken after Gaza comments spark diplomatic rift
  • The belated first trip to the Latin American powers had been seen as an opportunity to build ties with two key leaders

WASHINGTON: US top diplomat Antony Blinken was meeting President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday, amid a diplomatic spat after the Brazilian leader likened Israel’s war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two.
US officials have said they expect Lula and Secretary of State Blinken to have a robust conversation on issues of global security, including the conflict in Gaza sparked by attacks in southern Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome in Israel until he takes back the comments.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday that Washington disagreed with Lula’s comments, but declined to preview what Blinken would say in the meeting on the issue.
Lula’s comments came after he visited the Middle East last week and just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro as part of Brazil’s presidency of the G20 group of advanced economies.
Washington, which provides Israel with military and diplomatic support, has urged Israel to protect civilians but defended Israel’s right to target Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.
Ahead of Blinken’s travel to South America, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told reporters that sharing ideas on the conflict in Gaza would be “crucial to the conversation” between Lula and Blinken.
The two would also discuss efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela, a US-Brazil partnership on workers’ rights and cooperation on transitioning to clean energy, Nichols said.


Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say

Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say
Updated 21 February 2024
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Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say

Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, sources say
  • Iran’s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar
  • This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km, experts say

DUBAI: Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.
Iran’s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.
Iran’s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards — an elite force that oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program — declined to comment. Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.
An Iranian military official — who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information — said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.
Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.
“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”
UN Security Council restrictions on Iran’s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.
A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.
A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.
By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.
“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal.”

US AID DELAY WEAKENS UKRAINE’S DEFENCES
A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces. The Ukrainian defense ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.
Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.
“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Center for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.
Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.
Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometers and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.
Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.
“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.
“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defenses to intercept,” Lee said.

DEEPENING TIES WITH MOSCOW
Iran’s hard-line clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.
Defense cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajjizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran’s drones, missiles and air defense systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.
And last month, Russia’s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.
“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran’s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”
The stakes are high for Iran’s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.
While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies — including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen — have attacked Israeli and US targets.
A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.
He said Western nations were concerned that Russia’s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.
Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.
Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.
“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.


Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya

Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya
Updated 21 February 2024
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Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya

Russian activists abroad pin hopes on Yulia Navalnaya
  • Panchenko has been coming most days to lay flowers at an impromptu memorial to him in Tbilisi
  • With Navalny gone, she is pinning her hopes on Yulia Navalnaya, who has pledged to continue her husband’s work and urged Russians to share her “rage” at President Vladimir Putin

TBILISI: Like many other young Russians, Anastasia Panchenko’s political awakening came courtesy of Alexei Navalny.
Left reeling by his sudden death, she is looking now to his widow Yulia to take on the mantle of Russian opposition leader.
Since Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony last Friday, Panchenko has been coming most days to lay flowers at an impromptu memorial to him in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital she has called home since fleeing Russia in 2021.
Once a journalist with a pro-Kremlin news outlet in Krasnodar, southern Russia, Panchenko quit her job and went to work in Navalny’s campaign office after police violently dispersed protests in 2017 that were prompted by one of his anti-corruption investigations.
“He turned my life on its head,” she said in an interview.
With Navalny gone, she is pinning her hopes on Yulia Navalnaya, who has pledged to continue her husband’s work and urged Russians to share her “rage” at President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denies involvement in Navalny’s death, which it says is under investigation.
“Yulia Navalnaya is our new hope,” Panchenko said. “She has taken upon herself all of Alexei Navalny’s political capital. I think she’s the lawful, legitimate leader of the opposition.”
Navalnaya, 47, has not yet had time to set out her vision for Russia’s opposition, whose leading members are in prison or abroad.
Currently outside Russia, she would risk arrest if she returned to the country — like Navalny himself, whose last day of freedom was the day he returned to Russia in January 2021 after recovering in a German hospital from an attempt to poison him in Siberia.
Semyon Kochkin, a former Navalny campaign manager now also living in Tbilisi, said the task ahead of his widow was daunting, especially from exile.
“Yulia always demonstratively said she didn’t want any part in politics. I never expected that she would go into this battle,” he said.
“I’m very worried for her because she’s in danger. They can do anything (to her). Of course she’s not in Russia, but even so. She was never a public figure. She is going to be gravely tested. We will support her.”

WHAT NOW?
Panchenko and Kochkin were both part of a national network of campaign offices set up by Navalny when he attempted to run for president in 2018 but was barred from standing.
After he was jailed in 2021, his network was banned as “extremist,” and most of his staffers fled Russia under threat of long prison sentences. Many moved to Georgia, which allows Russians to stay indefinitely, without a visa.
With Navalny now dead, Tbilisi’s tight-knit community of political exiles is grappling with the loss of a man many hoped would follow in the footsteps of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, one day walking free from prison to become the country’s president.
Kochkin, 30, runs an anti-Kremlin channel on the Telegram messenger app, and maintains a list of natives of his home region of Chuvashia who have died in the war in Ukraine. He admits Navalny’s death has left him at a loss.
“I don’t really understand what we’re supposed to do in this situation right now,” said the activist, whom Russian authorities have designated a “foreign agent” and placed on a nationwide wanted list.
“We always thought of Alexei as the person who’d tell us what to do. He’d make the plan, and we’d carry it out. Now there’s no one who’s going to make that plan for us. We need to sit down and do it for ourselves.”

COLD CALLS
Dmitry Tsibiryov, the former head of Navalny’s headquarters in the Volga River city of Saratov, is another Georgia-based activist who says he will remain politically engaged.
As part of a project by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Tsibiryov has been cold-calling Russian voters for weeks, trying to persuade them to vote against Putin or spoil their ballots in a March 15-17 presidential election. He told Reuters he had spoken to about 70 by mid-February.
“Now, there’s no possibility of talking to residents of Russia face to face, but I can over the phone,” said Tsibiryov, 38.
“I believe in the beautiful Russia of the future,” he said, borrowing a slogan from Navalny. “What is the ocean, if not a lot of tiny droplets? We’re contributing those droplets in this project, one, two people at a time.”
Panchenko, the former journalist, says she is focused on fundraising and organizing legal support for those detained for commemorating Navalny’s death in her native Krasnodar region.
But while she looks now to Yulia Navalnaya, she is bereft at the death of her political idol.
“I think it’s an irreplaceable loss. Alexei Navalny’s name will be on people’s lips for a long time to come because it’s impossible to replace him,” she said.


UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire

UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire
Updated 21 February 2024
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UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire

UK has ‘confidence’ in nuclear system despite misfire
  • Defense minister Grant Shapps admitted to parliament that “an anomaly did occur” during an exercise on January 30
  • It is believed to be the second failed launch in a row

LONDON: The UK government said Wednesday that it had “absolute confidence” in its Trident nuclear deterrent system despite a reported missile test failure.
Defense minister Grant Shapps admitted to parliament that “an anomaly did occur” during an exercise on January 30, following reports that a missile fired from the submarine HMS Vanguard fell into the sea.
Shapps said in the written statement that it was “longstanding practice” not to comment on such tests, but that it was providing information “in recognition of the level of interest” in the operation.
“On this occasion, an anomaly did occur, but it was event specific and there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile,” insisted the minister, who was on board the vessel at the time of the test.
“Nor are there any implications for our ability to fire our nuclear weapons, should the circumstances arise in which we need to do so.”
The Sun newspaper reported on Wednesday that the “first-stage” boosters on the dummy Trident 2 missile did not ignite when fired off the coast of Florida, with an anonymous source saying, “it just went plop, right next to them.”
It is believed to be the second failed launch in a row.
Despite the setback, Shapps said that the test “reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in which the government has absolute confidence.
“The Trident missile system remains the most reliable weapons system in the world, having successfully completed more than 190 tests,” he added.
“The UK’s resolve and capability to use its nuclear weapons, should we ever need to do so, remains beyond doubt.”
But the opposition Labour party called the reports “concerning.”
The 13-meter-long Trident missile, which can aim at targets up to 4,000 miles away, are fired underwater from submarines, with boosters supposed to ignite when the weapons reach the surface.
Each Vanguard-class submarine can hold eight Trident rockets, but they are due to be replaced in the 2030s by the larger Dreadnought-class of vessels.