Russian plane crashes in Syria, killing all 39 passengers



Russian plane crashes in Syria, killing all 39 passengers

The Russian transport plane, an Antonov An-26 (file photo), was carrying 39 people on board.

(CNN)Thirty-nine people were killed when a Russian transport plane crashed while trying to land at Hmeimin air base in northwest Syria, Russian state media reported Tuesday.

Citing the Russian Defense Ministry, state-run outlet RIA-Novosti reported that all 33 passengers and six crew members were killed in the crash. Earlier it had been reported that 32 people had died.
Russian military personnel were on the aircraft, according to RIA-Novosti.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the accident occurred when the Antonov-26 transport plane came down 500 meters short of the runway, in a statement quoted by the state run news agency Tass.
The ministry said it was investigating the crash and that “preliminary data suggests it could be a technical malfunction.” It also ruled out the possibility that the plane had been fired upon.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case over the crash, the committee’s spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko told Tass.
Last month, a Russian Su-25 warplane was downed in Idlib province in northwest Syria.
Hmeimin, which is near Latakia, about 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of Damascus, is Russia’s largest air base in Syria.
A February 3 picture shows smoke billowing from the site of a downed Russian jet in Idlib.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Hmeimin in December last year, using the opportunity to meet with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.
Russia is a key ally of Assad, and its intervention during the long civil war — with troops and weaponry — has helped tilt the balance in the Syrian regime’s favor.

Russia deploys advanced stealth jets in Syria with warning aimed at Israel



Russia deploys advanced stealth jets in Syria with warning aimed at Israel

Satellite images show two Su-57 at airbase in Latakia; Russian official says presence of planes a ‘message’ to neighboring states who fly aircraft into Syria ‘uninvited’

The Su-57. (Photo by Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

The Su-57. (Photo by Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

Russia has deployed two of its most advanced and sophisticated stealth jets in Syria, in a power move likely to draw US criticism, as the Pentagon expressed its alarm earlier this month over recent close calls with Russian planes in the war-torn country.

Satellite images published by Israeli company ImageSat International on Friday showed the fifth-generation jets — two Su-57 fighter aircraft — at Russia’s airbase in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia. A source in the defense ministry confirmed to RBK news agency this week that the two planes were sent to the Hmeimim base “for a test in real conditions.” The jets are said to be a potential rival to the US’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which American forces use in patrols over Syria.

The deployment came with a covert warning to Israel by a Russian official, who said that the presence of the Su-57s will doubtlessly send a political message, serving as a deterrent “for aircraft from neighboring states, which periodically fly into Syrian airspace uninvited.”

Speaking to the Russian news network Sputnik, Vladimir Gutenov, chairman of the Military Industry Committee in the Russian parliament, said on Friday that the jets “need to be tested in combat conditions, in conditions of [enemy] resistance.”

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

New photos showing the additional 2 Russian Su-57 escorted by Su-30SM
landing today in the Russian Air Force base in

And a photo for the RuAF A-50U #41 Red landing at the AB after a combat mission.


Since 2015, when Moscow began lending air support to the regime of President Bashar Assad and carrying out airstrikes across the country, Russia and Israel have maintained an understanding aimed at avoiding accidental confrontations between the two countries in Syrian airspace. The countries use a “hotline” to communicate on security coordination.

Earlier this month, that mechanism was tested when Israel shot down an Iranian drone that has entered Israeli airspace, leading to large-scale Israeli strikes in Syria and heavy Syrian counter-fire. An Israeli F-16 fighter jet subsequently crashed under fire from Syrian air defenses in a severe increase in tensions.

In the wake of the attacks, Israel had appealed to Russia to intervene and prevent further escalation, and conveyed to Moscow that the events were proof that its warnings of Iranian entrenchment and growing boldness in Syria were merited. Russia has subsequently called on Israel and Iran to “show restraint.”

Israel has, over the years, carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria, reportedly targeting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah cells and weapons shipments.

Satellite images by Israel’s ImageSat International show Russian Su-57s in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has routinely used Syria as a testing ground for weapons and latest military technology. A Russian official said earlier this week that Moscow has tested over 200 weapons during the conflict, now in its eighth year.

“As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons,” said Vladimir Shamanov on Thursday. Shamanov is a former commander of Russia’s airborne troops, who now serves as head of the Russian Duma’s defense committee.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon voiced growing concern that the risky flying of Russian pilots in Syria could lead to a mishap — or even the nightmare scenario of a US jet shooting down a Russian warplane.

Defense officials highlighted several recent close calls with Russian planes, including one on February 14, when a pair of US F-22s intercepted two Russian jets over a part of Syria in which the Pentagon says they are not meant to be operating.


Dozens of Russians Are Believed Killed in U.S.-Backed Syria Attack




American special forces in Manbij, Syria, near the border with Turkey, this month. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

MOSCOW — Four Russian nationals, and perhaps dozens more, were killed in fighting between pro-government forces in eastern Syria and members of the United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, according to Russian and Syrian officials.

A Syrian military officer said that about 100 Syrian soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Feb. 7 and 8, but news about Russian casualties has dribbled out only slowly, through Russian news organizations and social media.

Much about the attack and the associated casualties has been obscured in the fog of war. For reasons that remain unclear, Syrian government troops and some Russian nationals appear to have attacked a coalition position, near Al Tabiyeh, Syria.

The attack occurred in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour, a strategic, oil-rich territory that is coveted by the Syrians. Most of the fatalities were attributed to an American airstrike on enemy columns that was called in by American-backed Kurdish soldiers who believed they were under attack.

At no point, an American military spokesman said, was there any chance of direct conflict between United States and Russian forces.

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“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” according to Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the American military. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

The Kremlin — seeking to play down its involvement in the fighting in Syria and seemingly hoping to avoid escalating tensions with the United States — has sidestepped questions about the episode, even as it faces rare criticism at home over its failure to acknowledge the deaths of Russians in Syria.

It has stressed repeatedly since last Wednesday that no members of the Russian armed forces were killed, and that any Russians fighting alongside the Syrians were mercenaries.

“We only handle the data that concerns Russian forces servicemen,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We don’t have data about other Russians who could be in Syria.”

The Kremlin said much the same about the nature of the forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, however, claiming they were volunteers and men on vacation, only to admit later that they were regular soldiers.

100 km

President Vladimir V. Putin has said at least three times since 2016 that combat operations in Syria were winding down, including once during a surprise visit to a Russian air base in Syria last December. Yet there are hundreds if not thousands of contract soldiers in Syria whom the Russian government has never acknowledged.

They were deployed both to help keep the official cost down and to avoid reports of casualties, especially with a March presidential election in Russia fast approaching. Even though the Kremlin enacted a law during the Ukraine crisis in 2015 to make battlefield casualties a secret, the funerals for regular soldiers killed in combat need to be more official than those for mercenaries, and are thus difficult to hide.

And some individual Russians have begun speaking out. Aleksandr Ionov, a Russian businessman working in Syria offering security and other services, said he estimated after conversations with associates in several private military organizations that more than 200 Russians might have been killed.

Mr. Ionov said not all those killed were Russian: Some of the paid fighters came from other countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. “More than 200 is the current estimate, we cannot know the exact number yet, but most of them were Russian,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Ionov said he was speaking out because he wanted any Russians who were killed to be officially recognized for their sacrifice.

“The truth has to be told,” he said. “If people died, then this should be recognized and respects should be paid to people who fought against terrorists.”

He called on the government to give a fuller version of events, adding, “People are outraged because they want to know the truth.”

Mr. Ionov was not the only one speaking out about Russian fatalities. Aleksandr Averin, a member of the Other Russia nationalist party, confirmed that Kirill Ananiev, a party member who left for Syria about a year ago, had been killed in the airstrike, noting that there were other “substantial losses.”

“I can confirm that Kirill died on Feb. 7 in Syria, near the Euphrates River, as a result of a strike by the American coalition,” Mr. Averin said in an interview, adding that he was aware of “substantial losses” suffered by “paramilitary structures with ties to Russia.” He refused to elaborate.

Another victim, Vladimir N. Loginov, 51, died “in an unequal fight on Feb. 7 in the area of Syria’s Deir al-Zour,” according to a statement published online by his paramilitary organization.

“He died, heroically defending our motherland in the far reaches against the invasion of maddened barbarians,” the group, the Baltic Cossack Union in Kaliningrad, said in the statement.


Syrian pro-government fighters, who were reportedly wounded in a United States airstrike near Deir al-Zour, at a hospital in the town. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

In another case, Lubava Kocheva, a woman from central Russia, said in a brief online chat that two of her male friends in Syria, Igor Kosoturov and Stanislav Matveev, also died on Feb. 7.

“We don’t know anything, whether they will bring them or not,” said Mrs. Kocheva, 41, referring to the men’s corpses. “This is very difficult and frightening.”

The names of most of the victims identified so far were first reported by the Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of Russian investigative bloggers. The exact circumstances of their deaths could not be established by The New York Times.

The Russian Defense Ministry, which supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in the continuing civil war, said none of its servicemen had been involved in the clash and that only 25 pro-government Syrian insurgents were wounded. It took pains to distance itself from the battle.

“The reason for the incident was lack of coordination between the reconnaissance movements of the Syrian insurgents and the Russian operative command,” the ministry said in its statement on Thursday.

The number and exact nature of private Russian security firms operating in Syria is unclear, although there have been persistent reports in the Russian news media that some militiamen who fought on the side of the Russian-backed separatists in the war in eastern Ukraine later deployed to Syria.

The main Russian paramilitary contracting organization is the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it. The group has been operating in Syria in various capacities, including protecting some oil fields, according to multiple reports in the Russian news media. Its relationship with the Kremlin is murky and unconfirmed, but its leaders have reportedly received awards in the Kremlin and its mercenaries are trained at the Russian Defense Ministry’s facilities.

Grigory A. Yavlinsky, a veteran Russian opposition politician who is a candidate in next month’s presidential election, called on Tuesday for Mr. Putin to disclose the number of Russians who had died in Syria.

“I demand an explanation as to why Russian nationals take part in ground military operations in Syria, despite the statements by the president and defense minister that Russian military formations will be withdrawn from this country,” Mr. Yavlinsky said in a statement. “I also think there needs to be a public report about relations with the U.S., as there is a growing threat of an accidental or deliberate direct military clash between Russia and America.”

The official Kremlin stance is that its military deployment in Syria is now centered on two permanent bases, one for Russia’s air force and one for its navy, there by invitation from the Syrian government.


Russian political analysts said that the country’s reluctance to confirm that its citizens had died as a result of a United States-led airstrike was actually a sign that Moscow did not want to further worsen the already fractured bilateral relations with Washington.

“This is a very rare case, where the positions of Russia and the U.S. got closer,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a think tank in Moscow. “No one wants to take steps that will do irreparable damage to the already broken Russia-U.S. relations.”

Correction: February 13, 2018 
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly described an account by a Syrian military officer. He said that about 100 Syrian — not Russian — soldiers died in fighting on Feb. 7 and 8.

71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow



71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow

Rescue workers struggle to reach wreckage of Antonov An-148 jetliner; ministry says several causes possible, including bad weather, human error

Illustrative photo an Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP)

Illustrative photo an Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP)

MOSCOW, Russia — A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed outside Moscow on Sunday after taking off from the capital’s Domodedovo airport, Russian media reported.

The Antonov An-148 plane operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines was flying to Orsk, a city in the Urals, and crashed in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow. Russian news agencies reported 65 passengers and 6 crew were on board.

News agencies said witnesses in the village of Argunovo saw a burning plane falling from the sky.

A source from Russia’s emergency services told Interfax that the 71 people on board “had no chance” of survival.

Plane crashed in Moscow, 60+ people on board, rescue can’t get to it as its in the middle of the forest. Its debris already being covered by snowfall. Will update more


The same news agency reported that the wreckage of the plane was spread over a wide area around the crash site.

Russian state television aired a video of the crash site, showing parts of the wreckage in the snow. Russia has seen record high snowfalls in recent days and visibility was reportedly poor.

The Russian-made plane was 7 years-old and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago.

Russian media reported that the emergency services were unable to reach the crash site by road and that rescue workers walked to the scene on foot.

A source at Domodedovo, Moscow’s second largest airport, told agencies that the plane disappeared from radars within two minutes of takeoff.

The Russian transport minister was on his way to the crash site, agencies reported. The transport ministry said several causes for the crash are being considered, including weather conditions and human error.

The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was flying to, told Russian media that “more than 60 people” on board the plane were from the region.

Prosecutors opened an investigation into Saratov Airlines following the crash.

Plane crashes are common in Russia, where airlines often operate ageing aircraft in testing flying conditions.

A light aircraft crashed in November in Russia’s far east, killing six people on board.

In December 2016 a military plane carrying Russia’s famed Red Army Choir crashed after taking off from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, killing all 92 people on board.

The choir had been due to give a concert to Russian troops operating in Syria.

Pilot error was blamed for that crash.

In March 2016, all 62 passengers died when a FlyDubia jet crashed in bad weather during an aborted landing at Rostov-on-Don airport.


Russian delegation ‘sought to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, Lebanon’



Russian delegation ‘sought to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, Lebanon’

Arabic daily says high-level team visiting from Moscow came to Jerusalem to discourage action against Iran and Hezbollah

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A delegation of senior Russian security officials visiting Israel this weekreportedly sought to dissuade Jerusalem from striking Iranian and Hezbollah weapons facilities in Syria and Lebanon.

According to the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 news, the purpose of Wednesday’s visit, headed by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, was Moscow’s desire to discourage Israeli intervention across the border, Channel 10 news reported.

The Russian delegation, which also included deputy ministers, army generals and intelligence officers, held talks with Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat as well as heads of Israel’s National Security Council and top military, defense and intelligence officials.

Patrushev himself met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has been negotiating with the United States and Russia, the main brokers in Syria, to keep Iran-backed Shiite militias and the Hezbollah terrorist group away from the border.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others have all said that Israel’s policy is to target shipments of advanced weaponry, including accurate long-range missiles, that are heading to or in the possession of Hezbollah. Foreign media reports have attributed dozens of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria to Israel.

Last week’s visit by the Russian officials came on the heels of Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss Iranian military entrenchment in the region.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base being set up outside Damascus, from December 4, 2017. (ImageSat International ISI)

Netanyahu said his meeting with Putin focused on Iran, with the prime minister saying if Tehran continues to try and deepen its influence in Syria, Israel would work to “stop it.”

“The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing.

“We also spoke about Lebanon, which is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will not accept this threat,” he added.

Netanyahu said that the weapons factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran. Israel is determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent those two developments, Netanyahu said.

Last month, Israel’s envoy to the United Nations said there are 3,000 soldiers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps currently fighting in Syria, and accused Tehran of seeking to turn the country “into the largest military base in the world.”

Danny Danon told the Security Council that Iran controls 82,000 fighters in Syria, including 9,000 members of Hezbollah, 10,000 Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and another 60,000 Syrians.

Danon urged member states not to “allow Iran to continue funding worldwide terror, pursue its dangerous internal arms buildup, and grow its military presence abroad.”


Russia And Putin’s Fixed Elections




Protesters on Sunday in Moscow, where rallies called by the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny were banned. “You have your own life at stake,” Mr. Navalny said in a pre-recorded message.CreditPavel Golovkin/Associated Press

MOSCOW — Protesters across Russia braved icy temperatures on Sunday to demonstrate against the lack of choice in the March election that is virtually certain to see President Vladimir V. Putin chosen for a fourth term.

“What we are being offered right now are not elections, and we must not participate in them,” Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg and a rare elected official from an opposition party, told a crowd of hundreds that had gathered in protest.

The protests in scores of cities — from Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west — were called by Aleksei A. Navalny, the charismatic, anticorruption opposition leader, after he was barred from running for the presidency because of legal problems that he said had been manufactured to prevent his candidacy.

“You have your own life at stake,” Mr. Navalny said in a recorded messageurging protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the rallies were banned, to turn out. “Every additional year of Putin staying in power is one more year of decay.”

Attacking the government as thieves, he said: “How many more years will you keep getting a lower salary than you are due? For how many more years will your business receive less revenue than it is due?”

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Navalny was detained before he reached the several thousand demonstrators gathered in Pushkin Square in central Moscow and other main avenues closer to the Kremlin. Video footage showed police officers, who over all were far more restrained than during previous demonstrations, tackling him and dragging him onto a bus.

Задержание Навального! (Тверская) Video by Команда Навального

A police statement, which put attendance at 1,000 people, said he would be charged with organizing an illegal gathering.

In June, Mr. Navalny was arrested as he emerged from his apartment to attend an unauthorized anticorruption protest, and he served 25 days in jail. This time, he first stayed in an undisclosed location, taunting the authorities by saying he would announce his whereabouts, and then giving the address where Mr. Putin is registered to vote.


Mr. Navalny was detained by police officers in Moscow on Sunday. CreditEvgeny Feldman/Associated Press

After he was detained on Sunday, Mr. Navalny posted a message on Twitterurging protesters to carry on without him.

The boisterous crowd in Pushkin Square chanted slogans including, “These are not elections!” and “Down with the czar!” At one point, the protesters urged more people to join them, chanting, “There is still time to come; the weather is not bad.”

Mr. Navalny organized anticorruption protests across Russia in March and June, mobilizing middle-class youths in particular, and his campaign has vowed to organize repeated protests before the March 18 election to underscore that the vote is a fraud, with the Kremlin manipulating the entire process.

The numbers on Sunday were smaller than previous protests, not least because an election boycott is a less-galvanizing issue than corruption.

“People did not come out for an unsanctioned event,” Marat Guelman, a leading cultural figure, wrote on Facebook. “It’s a defeat. Moscow does not want tensions.”

The crowd again skewed young, however, and even those who despaired of change thought showing up mattered.

“The boycott won’t likely change anything, but there are two different factors that work against Putin,” said Sergei Zhilkin, 32, a mathematician and IT engineer. “First, he gets older and is increasingly detached from what modern life is like; second, the new generation becomes more and more active in the society.”

Mr. Putin, 65, has refused to even say Mr. Navalny’s name, warning that protest movements would only bring chaos to Russia.


Demonstrators also gathered in St. Petersburg on Sunday. Mr. Navalny urged protesters there and in Moscow to turn out, as rallies in those cities were banned. CreditAnton Vaganov/Reuters

The demonstrations were generally peaceful, with some 240 protesters detained nationwide, according to OVD-Info, an independent organization that tracks arrests. In the far eastern part of the country and in Siberia, crowds gathered despite frigid temperatures, with Yakutsk approaching minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 45 degrees Celsius).

Numerous provincial cities granted permits, although the protests were often shunted to remote locations.

Kazan was typical. The city offered organizers the parking lot of a garbage processing plant in an industrial district 30 miles north of the city, then erected a 10-foot wall of snow with bulldozers so that no passing cars could see the protesters.

Not to be deterred, a number of the roughly 600 demonstrators clambered atop the barricade to wave their protest signs despite the biting wind.

“I’m 23, and Putin’s been in power 18 years, practically my whole life,” said Grigory, an IT specialist who did not want to give his surname out of concern about repercussions. He was not there so much to support Navalny, he said, but for freedom of choice.

“I pay taxes, and my money goes toward corruption — not toward new roads or my relatives’ welfare, but for expensive cars for officials,” he added.

Another man, who identified himself only as Khaliulla, 79, said he had spent his whole life sacrificing in order to build socialism and now he could barely survive on his pension, forced to chose between rent and medication. “I thought my retirement would be decent,” he said.

He also objected to the forced location of the gathering at a garbage plant. “What are we: trash or something?” he said.


Security forces gathered in Moscow on Sunday ahead of a demonstration there.CreditAlexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s two largest cities, law enforcement officials had warned that they would crack down on illegal gatherings. About 2,000 people demonstrated in St. Petersburg, according to the local news website

State television broadcasts largely ignored the protests. Pictures posted on Mr. Navalny’s website showed the police taking a saw to the door of his headquarters in order to interrupt a live webcast describing events around the country. The police said that they were responding to reports of a bomb in the headquarters, Mr. Navalny said. But the webcasts continued all day anyway from an undisclosed location.

Mr. Navalny’s call for a boycott puts him on one side of a dispute among the opposition about whether exercising the right to vote, however futile, might be preferable.

“Russia has matured to the stage for elections to take place not as a production with Putin seeking pseudo-opponents and everyone goes out and performs,” Vladimir Milov, an opposition figure supporting the boycott, said during a debate on the Echo of Moscow radio station.

Maksim Kats, another opposition politician from one of Moscow’s district councils, countered that voting was crucial, even if the outcome was precooked.

“I think that the most appropriate means is to vote for the candidate that suits you,” he said. “But even if not, then at least spoil the ballot. And vote against Putin.”

Even among the protesters, there was some support for this position, with one man yelling, “Don’t support the boycott! You will be helping Putin if you do!”

Some political analysts also suggested that the boycott was a poor tactic. The absence of Mr. Navalny’s supporters at the polls would most likely not be enough to make a significant difference in the turnout, which is already expected to be lower than usual. The lack of intrigue in the race is expected to hobble the effort to muster a record turnout for Mr. Putin.

He has ruled Russia since 2000, governing as president for all but a four-year stretch, when term limits forced him to serve one term as prime minister. A fourth presidential term — lasting for six years until 2024 — would make him the longest-serving leader since Stalin.

Temperatures Plunged to -88.6°F in Parts of Russia




Updated: January 16, 2018 12:33 PM ET

(MOSCOW) — People living in some of the coldest places on earth are hunkering down as temperatures fall to near-record lows that are even defeating thermometers.

Temperatures in the remote, diamond-rich Russian region of Yakutia on Tuesday plunged to minus 67 degrees Celsius (minus 88.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas.

In Yakutia — about 3,300 miles east of Moscow — where students routinely go to school in minus 40 degrees, school was canceled throughout the region. Local police also ordered parents to keep their children at home.

Over the weekend, two men froze to death when they tried to walk to a nearby farm after their car broke down. Three other men who were with them survived because they were wearing warmer clothes, local investigators reported on Monday.

The press office of Yakutia’s governor said Tuesday all households and businesses in the region have working central heating and access to backup power generators.

In the village of Oymyakon, one of the coldest inhabited places on earth, state-owned television showed mercury falling to the bottom of a thermometer that was only set up to measure down to minus 50. In 2013, Oymyakon recorded an all-time low of minus 71 degrees Celsius (minus 98 Fahrenheit).

Residents of Yakutia, home to nearly 1 million people, are no strangers to cold weather, and this week’s cold spell was not even dominating headlines in local media on Tuesday. Some media outlets, however, ran stories of selfies and stunts in the extreme cold. Women posted pictures of their frozen eyelashes, while YakutiaMedia published a picture of Chinese students who got undressed to take a plunge in a thermal spring.


President Approves $133 Million Sale Of Anti-ballistic Missiles To Japan



Washington (CNN)The Trump administration notified Congress on Tuesday that it has approved the potential sale of SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles to Japan in a deal estimated to be worth $133.3 million, according to a State Department statement.

Included in the sale are four Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missiles, four MK 29 missile canisters, and other technical, engineering and logistics support services.
The SM-3 Block IIA is an anti-ballistic missile that can be employed on Aegis-class destroyers or on land, via the Aegis Ashore program, according to a State Department official.
“If concluded, this proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States by enhancing Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force’s … ability to defend Japan and the Western Pacific from ballistic missile threats,” the official said.
The sale would also “follow through on President (Donald) Trump’s commitment to provide additional defensive capabilities to treaty allies” threatened by North Korea’s “provocative behavior,” the official added.
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Throughout 2017, North Korea has conducted a series of ballistic missile tests despite constant criticism from the West and trade sanctions.
The most provocative moment came November 29, when North Korea said it successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, topped with a “super-large heavy warhead” which it said was capable of striking the US mainland.
Last month, Japan’s cabinet approved a plan to buy two US-built Aegis missile defense systems, state broadcaster NHK reported, as the country faces increasing hostility from neighboring North Korea.
Russia accused the US of violating an arms control treaty by agreeing to supply anti-missile systems to Japan.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the deal with Japan was part of a bigger plan by the US for a “global anti-missile system.”
Zakharova claimed they were in breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an arms control agreement between Moscow and Washington that has been in force for 30 years.
“We need to bear in mind that all these systems have universal missile launchers that can use all types of missiles. It means another violation of the INF treaty and we see that Japan is an accomplice in this matter,” she said.
The US rejected the accusation. “The United States is in full compliance with the INF Treaty. Russian claims to the contrary are false and meant to deflect attention from Russia’s own very clear violations,” a spokesman for the US State Department told CNN at the time.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke with Japan Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera on Monday to discuss a range of US-Japan alliance matters and reaffirmed US commitments to the defense of Japan — pledging to work closely with his Japanese counterpart to bolster critical alliance capabilities.

Angolans Left Snickering After Post-Launch Glitch in Country’s First Satellite



Angolans Left Snickering After Post-Launch Glitch in Country’s First Satellite

The launch of Angosat-1 was broadcast live by Televisão Pública de Angola. Image: screengrab, Clubk Clubk/YouTube.

On 25 December, Angola’s first satellite went into orbit, and the launch was celebrated with a large screen broadcasting it live at Marginal de Luanda, one of the city’s main avenues, accompanied by fireworks.

Named Anglosat-1, the satellite is Russian-made, the fruit of a Russian-Angolan partnership started in 2009, and is intended to bring high-speed internet and radio and television transmission to various countries in Africa and parts of Europe.

However, hours after its launch from Kazakhstan the satellite lost communications with its Earth platform and remained silent for several hours.

Angolans treated the launch and the glitch with humor, but also took the opportunity to question the narratives of the world’s media and the wisdom of spending money on a satellite when human development remains so poor in the country.

Social media was full of comic reactions when news of the satellite’s temporary malfunction broke:

Os fazedores de memes estão cada vez mais rápidos e de humor apurado. “O satélite levou chip da Movicel por isso perdeu rede”; “Encontrou-se o satélite algures no Kwanza-Sul, destruiu as viaturas do soba e do administrador”😆

Meme makers are getting quicker and sharper in wit. “The satellite used a Movicel chip, that’s why it lost connection” [Movicel is a cellphone operator in Angola]; “The satellite was found somewhere in Kwanza-Sul [province in Angola], it destroyed the vehicles of the soba [community-leader] and the administrator”

Ontem os Angolanos lançaram fogo de artifício para comemorar o lançamento do primeiro satélite angolano.
Hoje a agência espacial russa perdeu contacto com o satélite.

Yesterday the Angolans launched fireworks to commemorate the launch of the first Angolan satellite.
Today the Russian space agency lost contact with the satellite.

“Moscovo perde sinal do satélite angolano” já não há porno pra ninguém 😂😂😂

“Moscow lost the signal of the Angolan satellite” now there is no porn for anybody

Must be without a system…
After all, the satellite is Angolan

Some, though, criticized so much attention being given to the fault in the satellite – which finally re-established contact two days later, according to the Russian maker RSC Energia.

Tanta midia internacional subitamente interessada apenas no fracasso do satélite angolano… hate e vontade de não ver um país africano sobressair é assim tão grande ?

So much international media suddenly interested only in the Angolan satellite’s failure… the hate and will to not see an African country stand out is so great?

Angola has become the seventh African country, alongside Algeria, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia, to have a communications satellite in orbit.

The Angolan government reports that it has invested 320 million US dollars in the project, which it forecasts that it will recover in two years. According to Minister of State Carvalho da Rocha, the telecommunications operators of Angola spend, together, between 15 and 20 million US dollars each month in renting space on other satellites for the region.

Furthermore, the minister said that 40% of the satellite’s capacity has already been sold, to be used by national telecommunications operators, while the rest should be hired by other operators in Africa and parts of Europe. Angosat-1 should stay in orbit for 15 years.

Imagens exclusivas do Angosat.
Satélite angolano será lançado no próximo mês. Técnicos estão a dar os últimos retoques para a conclusão do angosat.

Exclusive images of Angosat.
The Angolan satellite will be launched next month. Technicians are giving the finishing touches to Angosat’s preparation.

However, some raised concerns, such as activist Pedrowski Teca:

I ask:
1 – What is the Russian flag doing on our satellite?
2 – Why is the Russian flag most prominent and Angola’s in second place?
3 – Why is the writing on the satellite in a foreign language (seemingly Russian)?

For Raúl Danda, the satellite is not his priority as an Angolan citizen:

[…] If it is a reason of pride, because it is not just any country that sends its own satellite into space, this episode reminds me of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations; a lot of show for nothing or almost nothing. Many of the stadiums that cost millions and millions of dollars (a “cost” cost and a stolen cost) remain there with grass growing for the goats to graze. At that time, the government of President Eduardo dos Santos (now “ex”) intended only to show that “we can too”! This time that repeats itself. Launching a satellite is a good thing, even really good. But it is first necessary to achieve other things. Buying a BMW while, at home, the children have no bread, is, more than absurd, irrational. Launching a satellite into space while on the ground there is no medicine, food, quality education, healthcare worthy of that name, basic sanitation … and other really basic things, seems to me a terrible irrationality…

Another Angolan activist questioned why the government had brought religious practitioners to attend the launch ceremony:

Aqueles “Lideres Religiosos” que foram levados à Moskovo- Rússia, no âmbito do lançamento do tal satelite que já anda desaparecido foram mesmo fazer o que ?
Este governo parece que ainda não deixou o habito de gastar dinheiro desnecessáriamente, ou estes custiaram a sua viajem?

Those “religious leaders” who were brought to Moscow-Russia, for the launch of the satellite which has already gone missing, were there to do what? It seems that this government has not stopped its habit of spending money unnecessarily, or did they pay for their own travel?

Russia Sets up Permanent Military Presence in Syria



Russia Sets up Permanent Military Presence in Syria

Tuesday, 26 December, 2017 – 11:45
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as they attend the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 30, 2017. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Russia’s Defense Minister announced on Tuesday that Moscow has started forming a permanent force at naval and air bases in Syria, reported the RIA news agency.

The bases are located in Tartus naval facility and Hmeimim air base.

RIA news agency quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying: “Last week the Commander-in-Chief (President Vladimir Putin) approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim (air base). We have begun forming a permanent presence there.”

The Tartus naval facility, in use since the says of the Soviet Union, is too small to play host to larger warships.

According to the RIA report, the agreement will allow Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels. The agreement will last for 49 years and could be prolonged further.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered on December 11 the withdrawal of his country’s forces from Syria.