Russian foreign minister says Western reaction to Navalny’s death is ‘hysteria’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday described the reaction of the West to the death of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny as “hysteria,” Reuters reported.

He also said that the West had no right to interfere with Russia’s affairs.

Putin critic Navalny died last week while serving a sentence in a Russian prison colony, prompting outrage from Western leaders, many of whom have said Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for the death. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Lavrov is currently at a meeting of G20’s foreign ministers in Brazil, during which Navalny’s death has been discussed widely.

Pictures show a meeting between Lavrov and Turkey’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the G20, and he is set to meet Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva later on Thursday, Reuters reported.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Dutch PM Rutte reportedly has strong backing to become new NATO chief

Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is poised to become the new head of NATO as Jens Stoltenberg’s term is set to end later this year.

Politico on Wednesday reported that over 20 of the 31 NATO members have agreed to support Rutte’s candidacy. He is so far the only official candidate.

The U.S. is among Rutte’s supporters, according to Reuters, who were told by a U.S. official on Thursday that President Joe Biden “strongly endorsed” him. Various media outlets have also reported that a U.K. official has said Rutte would be backed by Britain.

During the recent Munich Security Conference, Rutte called on leaders to “stop moaning and whining” about Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, and instead focus on on Ukraine, Reuters reported.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Russia’s Putin flies on a nuclear-capable strategic bomber

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Phygital Centre as the international Games of the Future competition Kazan 2024 international competition kicks off in Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia on February 21, 2024.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday flew on a nuclear-capable modernized bomber, Russian media reported, in what is likely to be regarded as a clear signal to the West about the country’s nuclear capabilities.

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, the Tupolev Tu-160M “Ilya Muromets” strategic bomber is seen on the grounds of an aircraft manufacturer in Kazan on February 22, 2024.

Dmitry Azarov | Afp | Getty Images

Almost two years on from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Putin took part in a flight on board a Cold War-era strategic missile carrier known as a TU-160M, news agency RIA Novosti reported. The flight took off from a runway belonging to a factory in Kazan and was estimated to have taken around 40 minutes.

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gets ready to fly in a Tupolev Tu-160M strategic bomber in Kazan on February 22, 2024.

Dmitry Azarov | Afp | Getty Images

State news agency Tass reported that Putin had inspected the aircraft and climbed into the cockpit the day before.

The Russian president flew an older version of the aircraft in 2005 as part of a Russian Air Force training exercise.

— Sam Meredith

Former Russian president lashes out at Biden

In this pool photograph distributed by Sputnik agency, Chairman of the United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev addresses the audience during the United Russia party congress in Moscow, on December 17, 2023.

Mikhail Klimentyev | Afp | Getty Images

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday sharply criticized Joe Biden, following up on comments from the Kremlin that the U.S. president appeared to be attempting to “look like some cowboy from Hollywood.”

“As opposed to what the U.S. president has said, the existential threat is not climate; but the useless old geezers, like Biden himself, who have become senile and are ready to start war against Russia,” Medvedev said via social media site X.

Medvedev’s remarks come after Biden on Wednesday described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “crazy SOB” during a fundraiser in San Francisco. Biden said the climate crisis posed an existential threat but that geopolitical risks such as nuclear conflict could not be discounted.

The White House was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

— Sam Meredith

Russia claims to have captured Pobeda, a small settlement in Ukraine’s Donetsk region

A civilian watches the destruction following missile attack at Ocheretyne settlement of Pokrovsk City as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on February 21, 2024.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday that its forces had taken the small settlement of Pobeda in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, although Ukraine’s military previously said its forces were repeling attacks in the area.

It comes shortly after Russia’s military ambitions were boosted by the recent capture of Avdiivka, a city situated in the northern suburbs of Donetsk. The decimated industrial hub had been a longtime stronghold for Ukraine.

“In the Donetsk direction, units of the ‘Southern’ group of forces liberated the settlement of Pobeda,” Russia’s Ministry of Defense said via Telegram, according to a Google translation.

The Ukrainian military on Wednesday said via Facebook that its forces continued to hold back Russian troops near Pobeda in eastern Ukraine.

— Sam Meredith

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy thanks New Zealand for military support

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaks during the 2024 Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2024 in Munich, Germany.

Johannes Simon | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday thanked New Zealand leader Christopher Luxon for the country’s latest assistance package.

“This timely support includes facilitating Ukrainian soldier training, strengthening our defense capabilities, intelligence and logistics support, communications, humanitarian assistance, and recovery efforts,” Zelenskyy said via the X social media platform.

“I appreciate New Zealand’s continued and steadfast support for Ukraine, which demonstrates that geographical distance doesn’t matter when it comes to defending shared values of freedom and international law,” he added.

Earlier, New Zealand’s Luxon said he was “proud” that the country had been able to provide Kyiv with support to defend itself through New Zealand Defense Force deployments to Europe and $6.5 million in military assistance.

“My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine as they mark 2 years since Russia’s illegal full-scale invasion,” Luxon said via X.

— Sam Meredith

Kremlin reacts to Biden ‘crazy SOB’ comments about Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on Dec. 9, 2022.

Vyacheslav Oseledko | Afp | Getty Images

The Kremlin has reacted to President Joe Biden calling his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, a “crazy SOB,” saying that Biden had humiliated himself, and the United States, in making the off-the-cuff remarks.

“The U.S. president using such vocabulary when talking about a head of another state hardly hurts President Putin, but it may be humiliating for the one using such words,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov said Thursday, Reuters reported.

“Probably there is an attempt to look like some cowboy from Hollywood, but frankly I don’t think it’s possible,” he said.

Biden was addressing a small group of donors in San Francisco yesterday when he made the comment on Putin, saying that the climate crisis was an existential threat but that geopolitical risks could not be discounted.

“This is the last existential threat. It is climate. We have a crazy SOB like that guy Putin and others and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate,” Biden said.

Peskov said Russia and Putin had never used a “boorish” word on Biden:

“As a Russian citizen, I’d just like to address [Biden] and ask your assistants to get you a digest on whether President Putin has ever used a single boorish word when talking about you. This has never been the case. So I think this kind of vocabulary may just humiliate America itself,” he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Biden calls Putin a ‘crazy SOB’ during San Francisco fundraiser

U.S. President Joe Biden stops to talk to journalists about new Russian sanctions as he departs the White House on February 20, 2024 in Washington, DC. 

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images News | Getty Images

President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB” during a fundraiser in San Francisco on Wednesday, warning there is always the threat of nuclear conflict but that the existential threat to humanity remains climate.

“This is the last existential threat. It is climate. We have a crazy SOB like that guy Putin and others and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate,” Biden told a small group of donors.

Biden has previously cursed “son of a bitch” at others. In January 2022, he was caught on the hot mic using the same term of abuse against a Fox News White House reporter.

Biden has a tendency to go off script during election fundraisers and in recent months has dug into the Chinese government, the Republican Party and U.S. ally Israel for its bombing of the Gaza Strip.

Biden’s verbal attacks against Putin have also sharply intensified at the White House and on the campaign trail. Last week, the U.S. President blamed Putin and “his thugs” for the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that the death of Nalvany was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did,” Biden said at the White House after Russian prison officials announced that Navalny had died.

The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny’s death and said Western claims that Putin was responsible are unacceptable.

Biden and Putin remain deeply at odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, over which Russia has been sanctioned by the United States and other Western nations. Biden’s reactions have put a further chill into already bitter U.S.-Russian relations.

On Tuesday, Biden said the U.S. will announce a major package of sanctions against Russia over Navalny’s death and the Ukraine war.

— Reuters

Iran sends Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles

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 U.S.-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 programme – 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 finalised 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.”

— Reuters

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant disconnected from last backup power line: IAEA

Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant on March 29, 2023.

Stringer | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has lost connection to its only remaining backup power line, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday, though the site remains connected to its one main line.

The nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, has been occupied by Russia since March 2022. While it is not generating power, it needs a continued supply of electricity to cool its reactors and conduct other essential functions.

The UN nuclear watchdog’s team stationed at the plant was told of the disconnection Tuesday afternoon. It was attributed to an unspecified “problem” on the other side of the Dnieper River. The Ukrainian grid operator has begun work on the line.

The plant is located in southeastern Ukraine, in one of the regions that has seen some of the fiercest frontline fighting and shelling.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the issue underscored “the fragile nuclear safety and security situation at the site.”

The plant is being powered by one 750 kilovolt (kV) line. Before the war with Russia, it had four 750 kV lines and six 330 kV lines available, according to the IAEA.

— Jenni Reid

Zelenskyy calls for top-level Poland-Ukraine meeting at border as grain protests escalate

Polish farmers with their tractors and vehicles block the expressway S3 during a demonstration. Polish farmers are staging protests against cheap Ukrainian grain flooding the market and EU regulations on pesticide and fertiliser usage. Tractors with Polish flags blocked motorways and major junctions in almost 200 locations in Poland. 

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had directed his “entire government” to arrive at the border with Poland by the weekend, as he called for top-level talks with Polish officials over farmers’ protests.

“I would like to address Polish society and express Ukraine’s gratitude to everyone who distinguishes between political manipulation and critical national security issues. I would also like to address the Polish government, specifically Prime Minister [Donald] Tusk and his ministers,” Zelenskyy said in a video posted to the social platform X.

Ukraine has been in dispute with several of its allied neighbors, including Poland, for months over the export of Ukrainian grain, which local farmers argue has been depressing prices.

Tensions escalated Tuesday as Polish farmers blocked the Ukrainian border and opened railway carriages to spill Ukrainian grain, according to a Reuters report.

“We are now witnessing an excessive and unfair politicization that threatens to dump common achievements,” Zelenskyy said, adding that he wanted to address the European Commission to “preserve Europe’s unity.”

— Jenni Reid

UK imposes sanctions on staff of Arctic penal colony where Alexei Navalny died

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from the IK-2 corrective penal colony in Pokrov before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence, in Moscow, Russia May 17, 2022. 

Evgenia Novozhenina | Reuters

The U.K. imposed sanctions on six people in charge of the Arctic penal colony where political opposition leader Alexei Navalny was imprisoned and died last week.

The individuals, who held the positions of head or deputy heads of the prison, will be banned from the U.K., and their assets will be frozen, according to U.K. foreign secretary David Cameron.

“It’s clear that the Russian authorities saw Navalny as a threat and they tried repeatedly to silence him,” Cameron said in a statement. “Those responsible for Navalny’s brutal treatment should be under no illusion – we will hold them accountable.”

Russian authorities say that Navalny, who was already serving a combined sentence of 19 years, fell ill and died after taking a walk.

Western governments have widely blamed the Kremlin for Navalny’s death. Navalny, who called for democratic reforms in Russia, campaigned against corruption, and vocally criticized the government, was seen as the most formidable opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has refuted such criticism before forensic data is available.

— Natasha Turak

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