Showing posts with label Crisis Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crisis Russia. Show all posts

September 11, 2019

The Russian Elections Shows Putin Tub is Beginning To Crack


{By James Rodgers, head of International Journalism Studies at City, University of London}

Since Vladimir Putin first became president of Russia almost 20 years ago, the unwritten rules governing the relationship between political power and the people have been clear: Citizens accept less political freedom in return for receiving greater prosperity. But five years of falling incomes mean that the Kremlin is no longer keeping its side of the deal.
Russia's leadership is increasingly worried that more people will demand change. The results of Sunday’s elections in Moscow for local government positions suggest they are right to be afraid. 
Russia's strict laws governing political protests — not encouraged, and requiring permission which is only sometimes granted (often merely to give the impression that freedom of assembly exists) — were not enough to stop demonstrators taking to the streets by the tens of thousands in the months leading up to Sunday's vote.
The rallies — which resulted in police beating demonstrators and more than 2,000 protesters being detained— were sparked by the government's refusal to allow opposition candidates to register for the elections. Though the majority of the protesters were released shortly afterward, the heavy-handed approach seemed to only steel the protesters' determination. 
Denied the chance to vote for candidates opposed to Putin, the rebels endorsed the practice of tactical voting, supporting candidates from parties other than United Russia, the party that exists mainly to support whichever policies the Kremlin is pursuing.
In an early sign of the power of the opposition, the fact that candidates did not even clearly identify as part of United Russia — choosing, for the most part, to present themselves as independents — suggests that their brand is, to say the least, losing its appeal with voters. Altogether, United Russia lost a third of its seats on the Moscow City Council. Elsewhere, the picture was more positive for pro-Kremlin candidates.

Image: Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin waits for his ballot as he arrives to vote at a polling station during a city council election in Moscow, Russia on Sept. 8, 2019.Alexei Nikolsky / Sputnik/Kremlin Pool via AP

Naturally, the way you choose to interpret this outcome depends on your view of the situation. It may have been “victory” to the most prominent opposition activist, Alexei Navalny. To Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the results were proof that predictions of “protest voting” had not turned out to be true.
Look beyond the competing claims, though, it is clear something has shifted. When I was a correspondent in Moscow a decade ago, opposition demonstrations were pitifully small. In a city with a population of 10 million or more, the so-called “marches of the dissenters” often attracted no more than a couple thousand.
Russia then was growing richer on the back of soaring oil prices. For most Muscovites, and those who flocked to the capital to grab a share of the good times, there really wasn't much to complain about. Rising incomes secured Putin's popularity, with annual growth reaching 7 percent in the 2,000s, even as Western observers expressed concern about restrictions on political freedom. 
Those concerns did not trouble the majority of ordinary Russians. Traveling around Russia as a reporter in the 1990s, I heard stories of unpaid salaries and visited factories working at a fraction of their capacity. Wearied by the chaos that had followed the collapse of communism, many voters were content to accept the stability and steadier pay that came with a former KGB officer as president.
Things are different now, as that stability has eroded. With living standards falling, there are Russians taking to the streets to improve their financial prospects. Some of the most significant before this summer's demonstrations over the elections have been against pension reforms proposed raising the retirement age
While many of those protesters were close to retirement age, there is also a new generation of frustrated citizens who have only known Russia with Putin in charge. They want something else.
For the moment, these young activists pushing for change at the top remain in the minority. Putin's popularity may not be what it was — and a dispute over polling methodology earlier this year showed that it had become a touchy subject — but it is still higher than that enjoyed by many Western leaders.
But if the opposition activists campaigning for their candidates' right to run could harness the popular anger over the economy, too, then the Kremlin would have real cause for concern.
Ironically, it's the same thirst for economic prosperity coursing under this popular dissent that might save Putin from mass upheaval and the economic dislocation they equate it with from the past turmoil they've experienced.
Russia underwent radical change twice in the last century. The first time, in 1917, revolution followed centuries of violent injustice visited upon the people by the political elite. The second, in the 1990s, was a case of Communism collapsing as a result of an attempt to reform rather than destroy it. The instability that followed gave democracy itself a bad name in many parts of Russian society. (And that doesn't count the trauma of mass political murder and Nazi invasion in the time of Joseph Stalin.)
The wave of protest that rose in Russia this summer may now break without making much of an impact. But the change of some sort will have to come soon. 
Putin was re-elected in 2018 for a six-year term. By the time that ends in 2024, he will, for the second time, have served the two consecutive terms permitted by the Russian constitution. 
Last time he transitioned into the role of prime minister but continued to call the shots for his hand-picked replacement, Dmitry Medvedev. Even if he's able to pull off the same maneuver in 2024, though, he will be more than 70 years old and, if trends continue, further weakened by the mounting popular frustration. And failing that maneuver, either the constitution must change to permit him to continue in office, or the president must change. 
No one should underestimate Putin's desire, or ability, to survive. His opponents are unbowed by the beatings the riot police have handed out and jubilant at their success — an achievement to be sure, but still a modest one. But if Putin's administration is unable to offer the prospect of better times ahead, the protesters may find their ranks begin to swell further.

June 14, 2017

Protests on The Streets of Russia- Navainy Campaign Taking Roots

Russian police detain a protester in Tverskaya street in central Moscow on June 12, 2017
This was not an LGBT demonstration for the mistreatment they receive from Putin but these were 
Russians demonstrating for their lives from a system that according to them only takes care of itself. AS we in the west can see Putin's billions and billions of fortune grow, hidden on Putin's own bank a bank financed by Putin and given to his friend to run.  The money collected from bribes, from those that want to do business in Russia most pay Putin's government.

Russians money is being spent on a weapons race that Russia started and just like the last time it can't win. They still have a few submarines that cost billions and seat there as a witness to a corrupt broken system, nuclear vessels to be scrap because they were too expensive to operate. Some of these nuclear subs still are sinking by the yards. This was the last arms race. Money that could have been used to start up their economy. There was even talk to work with together with the US until Putin came into power.That was scrap. {utin did not want cooperation, he wanted it all.

There are more sanctions coming but they are coming to Putin's friends and those that keep his money. Doubtful that it will affect the average Russian but they will be told that their situation is due to sanctions. The thing is that before there were sanctions the average cost of living for Russians were also bad. The problem is a corrupt system in which the money only trickles down to the masses. It's the same in the US but at least there is more money that trickles down since politicians can be voted out of office.

The average Russian now earns about $139 translated in dollars per month. The lucky ones  make that amount a week which are very few not in the government, this is not enough to buy food if they find food on the shelves and not talking about gas for the car or rubles to commute on mass transportation.

The people of Russia, particularly the younger generation can see they have no future, there is nothing out there for them. Those that study hard to become a Doctor or lawyer will see that they will go to work with a tie but with pockets empty of money.

What Putin is done is what the previous ruler did, Gorbachev. He lives retired in a villa full of crytal chandeliers and all the things the average Russian can not afford. Putin, on the other hand, see that type of living too poor for him. He believes money is power and he understands that why he is got this scheme to get as much as possible while Russia starves because it is not going to last for ever. Right now the military is backing him but just like the Soviet Union fell there will be a point that even the soldiers won't get paid on a regular basis. At this point, the governemnt will fall. Putin expects to be flowin in style anywhere he wants and to continue living the good life.

In America some of the people with the help of Putin elected a billionaire which Americans don't mind him having plenty of money, the problem is since they have been sold the lie that all Americans can become rich if they work hard
(the American dream) and follow the rules they will also make it rich. Many know that is not true but at least, one can typically earn enough go pay for the house, the car and send the kids to school. Others depend on the government's help to make ends meet.But that is it, no streets paved with gold. 

Americans are beginning to discover they have elected a crazy president who think he is king and has become capable of almost anything. He is also is using his position to make himself as rich as Putin. Maybe they have a bet these two to see who can TOTALLY BANKRUPT THE COUNTRY FIRST. THE ONLY ADVANTAGE FOR THE AMERICANS IS THE CONSTITUTION,

Yes, the street is the only thing available but as the Russians are push against the wall more and more they will see that going out on the streets will become easier. Those soldiers have families and hopefully, the family will convince each one to side with the people because they are people too. My heart goes out to these young people and wish them luck!

The Publisher of

BBC reports:

Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIn fact, many  Russians were waving or even wearing the Russian flag. Their idea was to walk down Tverskaya Street and protest simply by their presence.Many of the protesters have never known another Russian leader besides President Putin  
It was hard to spot the protesters at first on Moscow's main street. The vast majority were not carrying placards.

But the demonstration against corruption ended in mass detentions. 
We watched as riot police in body armor and helmets formed snatch squads six men strong, shoved their way into the crowd and grabbed hundreds of protesters at random, sometimes brutally.   
As soon as opposition leader Alexei Navalny called people into the city center to protest, rejecting the site allocated by the authorities, he was setting the stage for confrontation.
Thousands of people of all ages heeded his call in any case, but many were in their late teens and early twenties. This is a generation that has only ever known one leader - President Vladimir Putin - and some clearly are unhappy with that.

'Not afraid of Putin'

"I came because I don't like Putin and what we see on our TV is completely false. I want to change something," a protester called Kirill told the BBC. He described the event as "successful" despite the detentions. 
"A lot of people came. They are not afraid of our police and Putin," he argued.

Russian police officers detain Maria Baronova of Open Russia at the opposition rally in Tverskaya street in central MoscowImage copyrightAFP
Image captionAmong those arrested by Russian police was Maria Baronova, from the Open Russia movement

"The same people have been in power for 17 years. They steal, but nothing works here," a 16-year-old boy told a video team from Vedomosti newspaper. "We young people don't see a decent future."
The Kremlin spokesman shrugged off the protest as a "provocation" and argued that the police had simply restored order.
But the scenes in Moscow led one commentator to warn that Russia's political "temperature" was rising.
"The situation becomes more serious each time," Valery Solovei wrote on Facebook, suggesting more protests and more trouble to come.   

Navalny team hails protest

The key driver of the protests is Alexei Navalny, the charismatic anti-corruption activist who has declared he will challenge Vladimir Putin for president in next year's election. 
The rallies are partly about forcing the Kremlin to let him run, despite a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, which he insists was politically motivated.
Now, sentenced to 30 days in police custody, he will not get to campaign for a while. But he recorded a typically defiant video statement before he was led out of court. 
"I saw the pictures. You were great," Alexei Navalny told protesters. "Carry on working and fighting corruption." 
Monday's protest was the second the activist had called in just over two months. The attendance in Moscow this time was lower, but there were rallies right across the country. 
Organizers say crowds came out in more than 160 towns, double the number in March.
"That showed the strength of our campaign," Mr. Navalny's campaign manager told the team's YouTube channel, calling it the biggest "synchronized protest" since the 1990s.
"The whole country rose up... against corruption and injustice," Leonid Volkov claimed.
Critics scoffed at such talk. 
The Moscow city government official responsible for security said no more than 5,000 people had protested in the capital. Compared with some 2.5 million people who had joined Russia Day celebrations, he called that a "paltry percentage".

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks after a hearing in a court in Moscow, late on June 12, 2017Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAlexei Navalny faces another 30 days in jail for organizing the unauthorized rally

Some here accuse Alexei Navalny of "sacrificing" young protesters in his own drive for power. Plenty, even in the opposition, disagrees with his confrontational style and methods. 
But the activist's campaign to expose and fight corruption at the highest level is proving a powerful rallying call.
"I want to live in better conditions," another young man told the BBC, amid the crowd shouting "Russia will be free!" on the road that leads down to the Kremlin. 
"I think our government can react," he said. "They must give us answers for their corruption; for their actions."

December 21, 2016

Russians Dying from Drinking a Bath Lotion with High Alcohol Content

 A bottle of hawthorn bath essence, confiscated during an operation checking all private stores selling alcohol in Irkutsk, Russia (19 December 2016)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered stricter governmental measures to crack down on sales of surrogate alcohol, after dozens died from drinking a bath lotion.

This is a population in crisis. The alcohol consumption is gone back to the days of the USSR in which people were drinking anti freeze and going into Kidney shock.
They voted a President who became an Emperor and they have no power in politics to change anything, to get a job or a good apartment, never mind a house. Even a US defector by the name of Snowden is not happy there and hopping for a pardon which is not coming under Obama and doubtful to come under Trump.
The death toll in the Siberian city of Irkutsk has risen to 62, with more than 30 people seriously ill.
Mr Putin also wants new rules for compulsory labelling, plus tougher penalties for bootleggers. 
The deadly bath lotion contained methanol, which is highly poisonous.

Excise tax increase

Analysts say up to 12 million Russians drink cheap alternatives to regular, drinkable alcohol.
These are often labelled as cosmetics or medicines, and are regularly sold via vending machines. 
The presidential orders, published on the Kremlin website, call for tougher rules on all products containing more than 25% alcohol, and on the retailing of medicinal and veterinary products containing alcohol. 

A policeman in Irkutsk checking a private store is not selling alcohol hawthorn bath essenceImage copyrightEPA
Image captionPolice in Irkutsk check private stores to ensure they are not selling poisonous lotions

Mr Putin also approved increasing excise taxes on surrogate alcohols, which would make them less profitable.
The government has until July to create and submit the new legislation. 
The Siberian Times said the mass poisoning in Irkutsk was "now the worst such case in modern Russian history".
Twelve people have been arrested in an investigation that has seen 1,500 premises searched and thousands of bottles of spirits confiscated.
Investigators say the hawthorn-scented liquid carried warnings that it was not for drinking, but the label also said the product contained ethanol, rather than deadly methanol, which can also cause blindness.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered his cabinet to "sort out" the problem of selling such alcoholic products not intended for drinking.
Mr Medvedev called their widespread sale through vending machines "an absolute disgrace". 

A boxed package of hawthorn bath essence confiscated during an operation checking all private stores selling alcohol in Irkutsk (19 December 2016)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionThis boxed package of hawthorn bath essence was confiscated during an operation checking all private stores selling alcohol in Irkutsk

Health Minister Oleg Yaroshenko said that almost half of those still being treated are not expected to live and were in a very serious condition.
"They came to [the] doctors too late.... Only a miracle can save them," he was quoted by the Siberian Times as saying.
The paper said that a doctor and a kindergarten teacher were among the victims and that many of those who died were discovered in their homes because they did not have sufficient time to call an ambulance. 
Most of the victims are reported to be aged between 35 and 50.
One 33-year-old survivor said that he only drank a small amount of the lotion but still woke up blind the following morning.


April 25, 2016

Russia’s Insecurities Have Chilled US Relations and Opened the Door for Worse


On Monday in the heart of Moscow, for a fleeting instant, the bleak stand-off between the US and Russia will be put aside. That day is the 71st anniversary of the meeting on the Elbe River, and to mark the occasion a sculpture will be unveiled in the Old Arbat district, barely a kilometre from the Kremlin, depicting the historic link-up between Soviet and American troops on the bombed out bridge at Torgau on April 25 1945.

At that point, Nazi Germany was cut in two. Inside a week Hitler was dead and a few days later World War II in Europe officially ended. More to the point, the Elbe signified a rare moment when the two countries were allies, united in a common cause. But for all the symbolic importance that attends Monday’s event, and whatever dignitaries are present, it will be low key – and small wonder. No ceremony can banish reality.

We may not be exactly reliving the Cold War. Unlike the immediate post-war decades, no ideological conflict exists to underpin it. Communism has virtually vanished from the face of the earth, and Russia practices its own bastardised version of capitalism. But today’s climate of tension, mutual suspicion and mutual incomprehension feels scarcely less chilly.

America doesn’t get why the Russians believe that Ukraine is part of, and must remain within, their sphere of influence, why they felt justified in seizing Crimea, and provoking a low-grade conflict in largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine that holds the entire country in suspended animation. Ditto its behaviour a few years ago in Georgia, another former Soviet republic that sought to realign itself with the West.

Russia for its part remains perennially insecure, perennially unable to understand that what it sees as an entirely reasonable desire to protect its western borders is perceived by the West – and particularly by the countries, that share that border – as unprovoked and unnecessary aggression. It cannot quite grasp that the 28-nation Nato alliance of 2016 is not a re-incarnation of the Third Reich, secretly planning to use its forward positions in the old Soviet domains of eastern Europe as a springboard for overunning the motherland.

Other elements of the original Cold War are also resurfacing. Unwilling to take each other on directly, they do battle in proxy wars, most obviously in Syria. Russia is beefing up its armed forces, especially its attack submarines, where the US and Nato have long held an advantage. Ancient Cold War concerns are suddenly alive again, such as control of the maritime channels between Greenland, Iceland and Britain (GUIK in Nato terminology) through which Soviet submarines must pass to reach the open North Atlantic.

All the while, the “provocations” continue. For Russia, the very presence of Nato so close to its borders is a provocation, and not without reason. After all, during the Cold War proper the alliance was hundreds of miles away, with East Germany, Poland as well as the satellite Soviet Republics of Belarus and the Baltics states standing in-between. Today Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania belong to the alliance. Nato is on the very doorstep of Russia proper.

So Russia stages provocations of its own – most blatantly on April 13 when the US destroyer Donald Cook, while on a routine patrol in international waters in the Baltic, was buzzed by a Russian jet that flew within 30 feet of it. Washington’s response was to tut-tut about “gross unprofessionalism” on the part of the Russians, and how Moscow was “pushing the envelope.” But more concrete counter steps are on the way.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the incoming Supreme Commander of Nato and of US forces in Europe, declared that President Putin was seeking not just to push Nato back, but to destroy it. Currently, the US rotates a couple of combat brigades in and out of Eastern Europe. Washington has already boosted its European military budget by $4bn. Now Scaparrotti wants a brigade, equivalent to 5,000 men, permanently stationed there, a tripwire to re-assure nervous allies and guarantee a US response to any direct Russian aggression.

As for incidents like the Donald Cook, Scaparrotti advocated giving the Russians a taste of their own medicine. In the meantime, Nato will show it means business when it holds military exercises in Poland this summer, involving 25,000 men, which will of course only fuel Russian paranoia. Anyone remember Nato’s Able Archer exercise of November 1983, a particularly fraught moment in the Cold War, when the Kremlin put its forces on maximum alert, fearing the exercise was camouflage for a full-scale attack on the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons and all?

Nuclear weapons of course remain the bottom line in any confrontation between Russia and the US, and the greatest reason to hope this Cold War 2.0 will not turn hot. More likely, say the wargamers, Moscow will continue the strategy it honed in Ukraine, needling and seeking to destabilise weak neighbours like the Baltics with “asymmetric warfare,” but stopping short of frontal attack. One mistake however – a provocation, a retaliation, a sailor killed or an aircraft shot down – and the brinkmanship could have incalculable consequences.

All of which is a very long way from the Elbe. That moment on April 25 1945 in reality is far less golden than it seemed then. Europe was about to be split into two ideological, economic and military blocs, and Washington and Moscow already realised that each would be the other’s main post-war enemy. The Soviet spies in the West were long since at work.

But somehow the candle of collaboration past still flickers. Every so often a so-called  ‘Elbe Group,’ made up of retired senior US and Russian generals, convenes in a third country to discuss problems in the relationship. The group has no official standing, but is a precious backchannel that allows participants to understand each other’s point of view.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, and probably won’t change the world any more than the unveiling of a commemorative sculpture in central Moscow. But right now, it’s the best we can hope for.

July 14, 2015

Economic Crisis in Russia: Putin slashes Police Force by 110,000 Officers


Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on Monday downsized the nation’s police force by 10 per cent, or 110,000 officers, as the country struggles with an economic recession.
The decree on the retrenchment said the exercise would only affect officers in management positions `on the regional level and up, and not those working directly with civilians, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Though it did not specify a reason for the downsizing Russia’s economy is expected to contract by about 3 per cent this and the government has been having a hard time balancing the budget.
Mark Galeotti, a Russian security expert at New York University, said: “I very much think this is because of the economic situation.
“All the ‘power ministries’ are having to absorb cuts, even the FSB – which in the past was protected from any downsizing.
“So this represents just one more victim of the oil price slump,” Galeotti said.
The FSB is the Russian Federation’s principal security agency.
Galeotti also said reducing the police force’s management staff, not the officers on the streets, could improve efficiency in the ministry.
“While the Russian police at the ‘front line’ are actually quite thinly spread (by my calculations, the Russians have the same officer-to-population ratio as the Netherlands), the administration is pretty extensive, in classic Russian style.
“If handled properly, these cuts need not have any real impact on the law and order situation on the streets and could represent a useful step towards greater efficiency,” Galeotti said.
According to the decree, posted on the government’s legal information website, the Interior Ministry’s staff must be reduced to 1,003,172 people from last year’s 1,113,172.
The last major downsizing in the national force occurred from 2011 to 2012 when the number of officers was cut by about 15 per cent from 1.28 million, under the then president Dmitry Medvedev.
The force’s name at the time was rebranded from the Soviet-era “militia” to the more internationally recognizable “police,” including on all uniforms, vehicles and official documents. (dpa/NAN)

April 18, 2015

Putin (with a straight face) Tells Russians the Worse is Over


PutinPutin takes questions on Ukraine, Iran(1:30)
In an annual question-and-answer session, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin claimed there are no Russian troops in Ukraine and defended the renewal of a contract to deliver an S-300 missile defense system to Iran. (Reuters) 
The opening in the front teeth is taken by many shamans and  some superstitious people as someone whose truth escapes through the aperture, therefore the lies is the only thing left to say..

In a measure of Russia’s grinding economic difficulties, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday devoted the bulk of an annual call-in program to assuring his nation that life would soon improve after a year of confrontation with the West.
The highly choreographed show is a barometer of the message the Kremlin wants to deliver to the nation.

Last year’s edition had a triumphant tone as Putin exulted in the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. But the president this time took a far more conciliatory approach over nearly four hours on the air as he answered questions about rising prices, the falling ruble and Russia’s economic prospects.
Putin also defended Russia’s decision to greenlight plans to send an advanced air defense missile system to Iran, saying it does not contradict international sanctions against Tehran and poses no threat to Israel.
For Ukraine, he said he wanted to work with Ukrainian authorities to resolve the burning conflict and held back from calling for the independence of a region held by pro-Moscow separatists.
Overall, the image that Russians received from the marathon performance was of a leader confident in his control and promising better times as Russia works to boost its independence from global markets.
More than 3 million Russians were said to have sent inquiries to the call-in show, which was heavily promoted on Russia’s state-run television networks.
Putin told viewers that he expected sanctions against Russia to last for years. But the challenges will ultimately strengthen the country, he said.
“It’s highly unlikely that sanctions will be lifted anytime soon, because it’s a politicized issue,” Putin said. “They want to restrain our growth.”
But he said he was more optimistic about Russia’s financial future than he was in December, saying he expected the economy to return to growth within two years. The ruble has strengthened considerably in recent weeks. On Thursday, it was hovering close to 49 to the U.S. dollar, after briefly falling to 80 in December. 
Inflation also significantly slowed in March, Putin said, although it remains at an annualized rate of 11 percent.
Putin often uses the annual call-in forums to boost his image as a leader intimately involved in the lives of his citizens, bypassing layers of officials for those lucky enough to have their questions selected. On Thursday, he commented on wide range of subjects including the purchase of exercise machines in provincial health centers and a marital dispute about getting a new dog. (He told the man to get his wife the dog.)
Putin devoted the first hour of the call-in show almost exclusively to the economy, returning frequently to the topic during the course of the program — which totaled 3 hours 57 minutes without interruption.
In foreign affairs, he insisted the Kremlin’s clearance of the S-300 missile system shipment to Iran did not violate international sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Russia is among the world powers seeking a deal with Iran that would ease sanctions in exchange for a rollback of Tehran’s nuclear work and an expansion of international monitoring inside Iran.
It was not clear when the S-300 missiles would be shipped, but the decision this week brought swift criticism from Washington.
The S-300 agreement was reached in 2007, but Russia held back because of Western pressure. The surface-to-air missiles — similar to the U.S. Patriot system — are designed to destroy incoming aerial targets.
Putin said he wanted to reward Iran’s willingness to make a nuclear deal — and he also suggested that Russia needed the nearly $1 billion in revenue that will come from sending over the missile system to Iran.
Russia’s tensions with the West have been sharply escalated by the conflict in Ukraine between pro-Moscow separatists in the country’s east and the Western-backed government in Kiev. More than 6,000 people have died during a year of fighting, according to the United Nations.
Putin said that Russia did not seek to be any nation’s enemy, but he held out little hope of improved relations with the United States. “The United States doesn’t need allies; it needs vassals,” Putin said. “Russia cannot exist in this system of relationships.”
But Putin held back from stoking the hopes of rebels that they might receive open Russian support for independence, saying that he did not expect a war on Russia’s borders. He said that the ultimate outcome of the conflict would depend on the flexibility of Ukraine’s leaders, criticizing them for imposing an economic blockade on the rebellious regions of the country’s east.
He urged them to implement portions of a February cease-fire agreement in which they promised to restore pension payments and the free movement of goods to the east.
Back on domestic issues, Putin described the killing in February of top Kremlin critic Boris Nem­tsov as “tragic and shameful,” but he suggested that authorities still had not identified a mastermind.
Russian authorities have charged five suspects from semiautonomous Chechnya. All have denied involvement in Nemtsov’s death, and Putin’s opponents have claimed that the investigation has avoided touching the possible organizers of the killing. Nemtsov was gunned down on a bridge within sight of the Kremlin.
Despite Putin’s largely conciliatory tone, Russian authorities showed little sign of backing down from their hard line against the opposition, searching the Moscow offices of an organization backed by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky while Putin was speaking. The officers seized computers and materials from the offices of Open Russia, saying they were investigating “extremist activity,” employees said on Twitter.
Karoun Demirjian contributed 

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