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An embarrassing situation for Russian athletes

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More than 30 Russian athletes withdrew from a tournament in Siberia over the weekend after the unannounced arrival of anti-doping officials. Russia has a checkered history with the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by its athletes, a legacy of the Soviet Union backed by historical evidence and testing records. The country’s team was banned last month from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics over allegations of a state-run doping scheme at the 2014 Games in Sochi. A total of 36 Russian athletes suddenly dropped out from a regional athletics competition in the Siberian city of Irkutsk after Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) officials arrived for an inspection, the sports website reported Wednesday. Dmitry Shlyakhtin, the President of Russia’s Athletics Federation, said he was “not surprised” by the disappearance of so many athletes.

Sweden starts an anti-fake battle against Russia’s threats


In a build-up prior the forthcoming general election in September 2018, the Swedish government is planning to set up a new authority responsible for psychological defense. The perennial and widely speculated upon “Russian threat” has once again been used as a bogeyman. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who presented the idea of a new authority tasked with the nation’s psychological defense at the national People and Defense security conference, said it would safeguard the people’s will for peace and resilience in times of war, as well as ensure the public’s right to accurate public information, deterring potential disinformation campaigns.

Bill on Donbass reintegration goes against Ukraine’s constitution, politician says

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Provisions of the bill on the reintegration of Donbass that will be given a second reading on Tuesday, run counter to the Ukrainian constitution and violate the rights of its citizens, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights told a news conference on Monday. “Passing the bill the way it has been drafted for a second reading will have considerable risks for the rights and freedoms of the people”, said Mikhail Chaplyga. Besides, some provisions, in particular on martial law, run counter to the country’s constitution, the spokesman added.

Russia and China to solve North Korea crisis


Russia and China are set to strengthen cooperation to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday after a meeting of Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou. The diplomats “shared views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. Both sides emphasized that Russia and China need to strengthen cooperation in order to de-escalate tensions and find a solution to the whole range of problems the subregion is facing on the basis of jointly drafted peace initiatives”, says the statement posted on the ministry’s website. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula again flared up in late November when Pyongyang carried out a new missile launch after a 75-day pause. Pyongyang claimed that this missile was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and the entire territory of the US was within its range. The UN Security Council adopted unilaterally tougher sanctions against North Korea.

BalkanInsight: “Serbs flocked to help Russian ‘brothers'”


Belgrade-based sleuth journalist from Serbia’s Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Marija Ristic has probed into the reasons why mercenaries from Serbia have been taking part in the war waged by Russia against Ukraine in Donbas. “The most prominent case was against Radomir Pocuca, a former special police spokesperson, who over several months of fighting in Ukraine posted almost daily videos, photos and other entries related to his time in Donetsk. Pocuca also claimed that he went to help Serbia’s ‘Russian brothers’ for patriotic reasons, mainly as payback for Russia’s support for Serbia in the dispute over the former province of Kosovo [which declared independence in 2008 – which Serbia has vowed never to recognize]”, she wrote in the article titled “Facebook Reveals Serbian Fighters’ Role in Ukraine War”, posted by BalkanInsight on December 27. Serbs are said to remember that Russian fighters volunteered for the Serbian side in the 1992-5 war in Bosnia, which pitched Serbs against a combination of Croats and Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims].



Maybe Russia will completely change in 2018 (Op-ed)


How will historians look back on the final years of this decade in Russia? They might do well to look at the closing years of earlier decades to guide their way. The ‘20s: The final curtailing of economic freedoms and political factionalism, a “great turning point” towards totalitarianism and the absolute authority of the Leader. The ‘30s: A time of political terror and preparations for war. The ‘40s: The height of the Cold War, nuclear blackmail, the fight against cosmopolitanism, the growth of nationalistic and anti-Semitic propaganda. The ‘50s: An ideological “thaw” and the flowering of culture, breakthroughs in science and technology. The ‘60s: A post-thaw “tightening of the screws,” the fight against dissidents, the establishment of what would later be called a regime of stagnation. The ‘70s: The agonies of stagnation, the downward slide into a bloody war in Afghanistan, an economic crisis and empty stores. The ‘80s: Large-scale political and economic reforms known as “perestroika,” the rapid democratization of society. The ‘90s: A national hangover following a binge of democracy, a deepening war in Chechnya, a financial crisis and a loss of confidence in the authorities. The 2000s: Oil and gas wealth, increased corruption, peace and friendship with the West despite the first symptoms of superpower aggression in Georgia.

Boris Johnson’s First Russia Visit


British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s first visit to Russia delivered heated discussions and memorable quotes about snacks, spycraft and the importance of his first name. He was the first top British diplomat to visit Russia in 5 years.

Johnson traded barbs with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and the suppression of gay rights in Chechnya. Britain’s top diplomat also emphasized London’s attempts to improve ties with Russia and the increased trade turnover between the two countries.

Here are some of the highlights of Johnson’s comments from a bilateral press conference.

On Bentleys and Kettle Chips

“I think we export about 5 billion pounds worth to Russia at the moment. It’s good news that Russian customers are buying loads more British things — from Kettle Crisps [Chips] to Bentleys, and I would in no way discourage that.”

On Trusting Russia

“It’s a measure of my trust that, as soon as I got into this excellent Foreign Ministry, I immediately handed my coat, my hat, my gloves, and indeed everything that was in my pocket — secret or otherwise — to Sergei Lavrov, in the knowledge that he would look after it and it would come to no harm.”

Vucic asks Putin if Moscow could be a mediator in Kosovo dialogue


“I asked if Russia could act as a mediator and the Russian president agreed”, said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, during his meeting in Moscow with Russian Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko relating on his meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Vucic added, “if the (Kosovo) Albanians demand that the US become a mediator in the Kosovo talks, then we will demand that Russia join the process”. Serbian President stated to truly appreciate Russia’s support in preserving country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity considering it extremely important. He also stressed to expect Moscow’s support in the future. The same day, Belgrade news agency Beta stated that the Kremlin “did not wish to comment” on Russia’s possible mediator role. The spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, when asked about the possibility of expanding the format of the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, referred that the issue of Kosovo was seriously addressed during the Russian-Serbian talks. While representatives of Pristina expressed favorably on the United States getting involved in the dialogue. In fact, it is worth mentioning that dialogue was launched after the Kosovo issue was transferred from the UN to the EU in 2010, which has been acting as the facilitator ever since.

Federal Security Service: Millions of cyber attacks against Russian government foiled annually


Tens of millions of cyber attacks against Russian government websites are foiled annually nationwide, Federal Security Service (FSB) Chief Alexander Bortnikov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily on Tuesday. “As a whole, tens of millions of deliberate attacks on official websites and IT systems of state bodies, including the official website of the Russian president, are thwarted annually. A total of 358 individuals have been convicted since 2012 for crimes committed using computer technologies”, the FSB chief said. Over the past few years, Russia has raised its information security to a qualitatively new level, Bortnikov said. “Since 2013, the state system of exposing, preventing and eliminating the consequences of computer attacks on Russia’s information resources (abbreviated as GosSOPKA) has been consistently building up its potential with the FSB’s leading role”, he said.

“Forum of Actions”: Putin says that Russia must become leader in knowledge, intellect, and culture


Vladimir Putin has told a forum of his supporters that he sees the main objectives of his new presidential program as maintaining Russia’s freedom, social stability and leading place among world nations. Speaking at the Tuesday session of the “Forum of Actions” organized by the All-Russian Popular Front movement incumbent president Vladimir Putin said that Russia had to fulfill the principal historical tasks of the moment, such as population growth, the creation of a new economy and development of its the Arctic and the Far East regions. Putin also emphasized the importance of keeping up with the ongoing revolution in production technologies, healthcare, and education. “Shielding ourselves from these international tendencies or trying to keep up with someone is definitely not our choice, it cannot be our choice”, he said, adding that Russia had all opportunities to restore the spheres of an economy where it used to be a world leader.

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